Engaging Customers

Ned Lilly offers several ways for software vendors to engage open source communities, including good ideas like transparency, bring in customers early in the process, plus open and continued communication. All are good ideas, but Ned commits an error of logical types by confusing open source communities with software user communities in general. That is any software vendor should apply Ned’s tips in order to engage its user community.

HarrisData has focused on engagement with its user community by applying these tips (and more) for the past two decades. Some examples:

Err on the side of transparency. The HarrisData Customer Zone provides information about system upgrades, technical documentation or advice, frequently asked questions, and a sneak peek at new product designs, so you can give us your opinion before we build the software. HarrisData provides full source code for our products. The innovative Omni-License provides full transparency of customer rights including a fixed price for a future license transfer. Customers have the option of sharing problem logs and resolutions online through our implementation of WebFirst.

Engage as early as possible and keep communicating in the development process. HarrisData product designs are published inside the customer zone along with a bulletin board system and wiki for continued communication and discussion. Timelines and QA standards are also shared, and may be fixed via HarrisData’s Cooperative Development program.

Given the level of correspondence between what Ned Lilly suggests and what HarrisData does, what is the difference between us? HarrisData interprets pricing transparency differently than Ned.

It turns out that people want to understand how you’re going to make money, and survive as a business

Ned offers user based pricing (which he publishes) and a daily rate for services. Estimating the total project cost over a meaningful lifespan (5+ years) is left to the customer. Ned does not disclose the relationship between the two (what percentage of his revenues are services vs software license / maintenance). HarrisData offers unlimited user pricing and a quickStart implementation methodology to give the customer much greater control and certainty of the project lifecycle costs. Less than 10% of HarrisData revenues come from fee for service activities – we profit by licensing high quality / low cost of ownership applications.

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