Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Have your say…again…and again…and again...

In response to our last minute on making virtual friends, someone asked me to turn our marketing newsletters into an RSS feed. Huh? I had seen the RSS button on lots of websites, but was a bit hazy on the details. Nor was I so keen on the idea of adding yet more weight to the information overload all of us experience. Now that I’ve done the research and tried it out, I’m sold on the idea and ready to convert others. So brace yourself!

I’ve said it once in my newsletter…
Like many workaholics I get sooooooo much email that I respond mainly to the urgent ones. Contrary to Stephen Covey’s advice and my own desire, I tend to ignore the important things like news and personal emails. And yet, I write a newsletter using www.streamsend.com. More surprising – thousands of people subscribe and some even read it. And a handful of friends love me for the poor correspondent that I am.

…I say it again on my website…
We archive all our newsletters on nFold’s website www.nfold.com for posterity. Sometimes people interested in our impartial advice or niche software will browse the site and can catch up on all the fun over some coffee. Or journalists wanting to quote someone not so rich and not so famous but mad about software, will check out the results of our crystal-ball-gazing and cheeky comments about the state of the software world.

…and I say it again in a BLOG…
This BLOG business has taken the world by storm. Everyone and his dog can write whatever they want whenever they feel like it and share it with the world. The infrastructure is free, courtesy of www.blogger.com. But anyone interested in reading your thoughts will need to know your BLOG exists or find the proverbial needle in a haystack. And when you add another thought?

… now I can say it again on RSS…
I was gratified to discover, at the END of my RSS research – thanks Murphy! – that we already have an RSS feed. If you browse to our BLOG address http://softwareminute.blogspot.com your browser’s “Feed” button should magically light up. When you click it, it takes you to a specially formatted page http://softwareminute.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default.

But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Now that you have the address of our feed, you need to add it to a feed reader like the one you can download for free from www.feedreader.com. It hovers in your computer’s task bar and pops up a window every time one of your “feeds” is updated with new content. Hey presto! News that you’re interested in reading arrives on your desktop.

…and the final word can be mine.
Our next step in the new technology adoption lifecycle is to follow in the footsteps of one of our software suppliers. Tom Sant is rated one of the world’s top 10 sales trainers and writes an award winning newsletter called “Messages that Matter”. No really! There IS an award for newsletters in the US where everything is bigger and better – as we all should know. He “podcasts” his messages so that you can listen to him have the last word on http://www.santcorp.com/best_practices/podcasts.htm. Now that’s what I call spreading the word!

Niche Software

Over the years I have had cause to ponder the meaning of niche software time and again. Since I've heard the phrase a lot recently, I thought it might be worth a minute of your time. When I started nFold 6 years ago, my vision was to assemble a portfolio of niche software solutions. They had to be affordable, quick to deploy and meet a specific need. Now that we also offer impartial advice on mainstream software, we have to be clear on the difference between the two.

Niche in a Nutshell
My definition of niche, is software that is narrow in function and hasn't yet achieved widespread market adoption. So it can be widely applicable to different market segments and decisionmakers, but it does one thing really well and chances are...Microsoft hasn't built one or bought one yet.

Not Niche
In my opinion, all the acronyms you probably recognize, such as ERP, CRM, SCM, MES are NOT niche. There are some applications that started out as niche and have become mainstream - such as accounting, payroll and business intelligence.

Sample Niche
The best way to explain is by way of example. One of our niche products is called Sant Suite. It automates the creation of proposals, tenders and presentations. Nothing more, nothing less. It's relevant mainly to healthcare, financial services, high tech, engineering and services companies. We mostly work with sales and marketing managers to help them improve their sales productivity and win rates. See www.santcorp.com or subscribe to Tom Sant's newsletter below.

Building a Community
nFold has pioneered this niche in South Africa for the last 5 years. We're slowly gaining critical mass in the financial services and high tech industries, although we're a few steps behind the international adoption of this type of solution. You may have noticed that we've made a huge effort recently to grow the community around this niche. We've become involved in the local chapters of UPSA and APMP (for sales and proposal professionals respectively). We are making editorial contributions to publications such as SalesGuru, Succeed, Business Brief, BusinessIT, and CIO Africa. We regularly conduct online web sessions and on 17 April, we will be hosting a best practice bid management seminar. Watch this space! Maybe next month we'll be speaking to Microsoft.

Build vs. Buy

At a round table discussion hosted by Brainstorm recently, the eternal question of whether it is better to build or buy software came up again in passing. The table had no corners, but the room did have opposite ends. nFold sat squarely in the "packaged software" corner, arguing that if packaged software meets 60-80% of your needs and can be configured, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. In the "bespoke software" corner, sat Malcolm Rabson from Dariel Solutions, whose experience has been that customers don't want to pay for 100% when all they need is 5% of the functionality that comes off the shelf. He has a point. Although the packaged software response is to modularise or tier the software to different groups of requirements.

Dariel & nFold both agreed on one thing: regardless of whether the software is packaged or bespoke, a mature approach is needed to ensure the success of your project. Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to deliver software projects in time on budget and according to specifications. Usually, that means spending more time up front, following the old adage that if you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

Another eternal question (or is it an excuse) came up in the discussion, namely the IT skills shortage; a convenient reason to buy rather than build. The word on the street is that software development environments and standards are evolving so rapidly that we now need a new kind of specialist. To make matters worse, the curriculum at higher institutions of learning has allegedly not kept up with market demands. When will our industry demand the levels of professionalism & skills accreditation already adopted in countries such as the UK?

I eagerly await the article Paul Furber has written in Brainstorm to see his take on these matters and the broader subject of Independent Software Vendors; and of course to see my name in quotes and the - no doubt - unflattering photo.