I just came back from a very interesting regional user’s group (RUG) meeting for a vendor today. It was the best customer turnout ever for this RUG. And there was no big name presenter as a draw, just presentations on planned enhancements, upgrade processes and mainframe data exchange. Also, we had birds-of-a-feather discussions during lunch lead by the vendor’s customers themselves. No sexy topics but real-world, nuts-and-bolts presentations, questions and discussions on what the customers in attendance were concerned about and wanted to know to improve their solutions to their customers: their business users.
But one takeaway from the meeting involved the upgrade cycle. The presenter on upgrade processes conducted a quick poll by a show of hands on what version the audience was using. There were a few hands on people using the latest version, about a third using the previous major release and more than half using the version from two major releases ago. The later release is no longer “officially” supported.
This lag in upgrading from vendors’ customers, where they often wait well beyond the products are officially supported, is not unique to the vendor above but more pervasive across software products – databases, BI, ETL and enterprise applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer resource mgt) and SCM (supply chain mgt). In the “roaring” 1990’s and the Internet boom, companies bought software and continually upgraded these products to get the latest and greatest features. But things have changed since then: a US recession with accompanying constraints on IT spending and resources, along with a greater focus on business value of IT expenditures. Companies have to determine how to best spend their IT budget and postponing upgrades frees up resources to build and deploy new or expanded business solutions.
This trend is not surprising to people in the trenches but vendors are continually frustrated that their customers are not keeping up with their latest versions. After all, why don’t their customers understand the benefits they will get from the upgrade?! Actually many of their customers do understand and have decided that there are higher priorities than an upgrade. Should they implement a performance management solution for their finance group or get some “neat” features in their BI, ETL or database products? The later may make a lot of sense but the former helps the business more.
Some vendors have recognized the trend and have lengthened the time they support previous versions – if you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the pragmatic approach.
Full-disclosure: I am a co-chairmen of users’ group mentioned above and have been involved in many successful DW/BI projects using this vendor’s product.