Vendors Must Cater To Developers Or Die - InformationWeek

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Vendors Must Cater To Developers Or Die

Technology providers need to realize that the procurement game has fundamentally changed.

What’s that? You’ve got a kickass, easy-to-use [insert tech product here] that’s going to revolutionize my business totally? You want to schedule a sit-down with a C-level decision-maker, set up a canned demo session with your solutions-engineer/genius for the IT staff, and we’ll be off and running… that is, once we cut a fat check?

Sorry, but that's so 1995.

The new reality: Software is eating the world. As a result, guess who has the power? Software developers. Amazon Web Services is on track to become a $9 billion business, with competitors also racking up big numbers and innovative new players jumping in daily. Do you think that growth is based on slick, scripted demos and “solution” selling?

Nope. Software is eating the world because software is more efficient. We automate things. We take things that used to require hardware, and we make them software, which is much less expensive and easier to customize, manage, and keep current. Every day, expensive hardware appliances get more irrelevant.

Given that, why have centralized, cumbersome procurement processes for technologies that are now as inexpensive as a carton of pencils -- or that have such huge ROIs that they might as well be?

There’s a revolution at hand as businesses realize they function better when they delegate more choices and responsibility throughout the organization, and, more specifically, to developers. Andy Jassy, SVP in charge of AWS, summed it up in a recent Q&A: “Customers are telling us that new ideas are now coming from across the organization and that employees are excited to innovate on behalf of their customers.” Think AWS is an isolated example? Have you heard of DevOps? Sixty-one percent of respondents to the recent InformationWeek DevOps Survey have a timeline to embed these principles in their networks. Most adopters will demand DevOps skills in new hires.

The world of IT procurement is shifting along with these changes, and developers are the new most important constituency.

If your products cost so much at the entry level that they require senior-level signoff (hi, Oracle and VMware), I don’t think you’ll be around in 10 years. But have fun in the meantime.

If you have instead made the intelligent choice to give customers an on-ramp to your products, so that they can get hands-on experience before making the decision to fire a coworker to pay for your offering, good for you. But you can’t stop there.

Developers don’t all work a typical 9-to-5 schedule. Many don’t even like to talk to their mothers on the phone, let alone sit on a conference call with a non-technical salesperson. PowerPoint over WebEx? Forget it.

[Need a more sophisticated API strategy? Read our Age of the API digital issue.]

Developers do like to use resources like Google, Stack Overflow, or Server Fault to identify technologies that solve the problem they’re tackling now. They like to read API documentation online -- without creating an account first. When a signup is required, they like to be up and running in a couple of minutes, with at least a sandbox account. Free is preferable, but it’s OK to require a credit card, and even to charge from the beginning, if the amounts are fairly low -- say, a small test for less than $10, or a midsize trial for less than $25.

When I was looking for a vendor to help with payments, Zuora was the first service I checked out. Unfortunately, there was no self-signup. It also required interaction with sales and a pretty hefty up-front charge. Currently its “free trial” offer says someone will contact me within 24 hours, or I can call sales directly. Bzzz, wrong answer.

I chose Recurly, which allowed me to read API docs and play around with the system at night, when I had time, without a big hassle. Later, we switched to Braintree, which was similarly developer-friendly.

You know all that focus on “the user experience?” You need to concentrate on the developer experience.

How? First, have an API. Post documentation online. Make supporting and updating your API and documentation a priority. Consider public forums and live chat. At the very least, make it easy to submit a question by email, and respond quickly, preferably in fewer than four hours, and certainly in no more than ten.

Second, have self-sign-up, preferably to a live system, and if possible. Don’t require a credit card. Freemium works well if you can swing it. (MapBox is a good example.)

Finally, go where developers go to find out which systems to use. For example, if you provide a telephony API, you should be in this Quora question, this StackOverflow question, and others like them.

If you do that and help companies put new ideas into action quickly, you may just survive into the 2020s.

I've helped InformationWeek overhaul the annual database technology survey to capture the seismic shifts in how we manage and mine data. Please help me map out the brave post-RDBMS world, and while you're at it, enter to win a 16 GB Apple iPad Air. Take the survey now.

Joe Masters Emison oversees the award-winning BuildFax cloud architecture and frequently writes and speaks on cloud topics.

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User Rank: Ninja
1/9/2014 | 10:04:09 AM
Re: Aren't we there already?
I'd disagree with both of those statements, actually.  It's true that there are a lot of firms that have freemium or ramped pricing, but many do not.  And it's not just Oracle and VMware -- there are a number of startup payments providers (I mentioned Zuora in the piece, but also Aria Systems) and database vendors that need to be working with developers, but don't do anything to enable them.

Also, if you are a startup, you're nuts to have the attitude, "man, I won't charge Wells Fargo much, because they'll be a great reference customer!"  You want Wells Fargo as a customer because they'll get massive value (because they're so big), *and* because they can pay a lot.  You don't want to kill of a large amount of your potential revenue by giving stuff away to the biggest players.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 11:10:49 PM
Aren't we there already?
I think most of us have, perhaps subconsciously, already evolved/migrated to this way of thinking. Forticom/SteelPlatez permits free use of the online authentication server, to anyone who can put together a web page.

As for not overcharging, I think we're all aware of the importance of a reference site, and I guess most small/medium companies would happily give their product away to major banks, telcos, government departments, just for the privilege of being able to point to them, and say 'That's our product, and look how pleased they are with it'.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/8/2014 | 5:33:11 PM
Re: Evolution is tough
>So I am not trying to say that vendors need to price their products at less than $10/month/user in perpetuity.


Price your product so that startups don't magnify their possible losses if they fail. Charge little or nothjing to test the waters and scale the fees with the customer's success. If you're preying on customers by charging too much at the outset you'll either drive startups away or contribute to their odds of failure.
User Rank: Author
1/8/2014 | 2:41:13 PM
Re: Evolution is tough
This developer focus applies to a growing number of companies outside standard software developers, as they try to get their services embedded in other companies' digital channels. Walgreens for example has APIs for its photo printing and prescription-filling services, hoping third-party app makers offer them as part of photo editing apps or healthcare apps.
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 1:36:51 PM
Re: Evolution is tough
Company I was working for went through a convoluted process to get signed up with a payment processor, one of several that were in the pipe at that time. I kept hounding them for API docs.

Finally, after a few weeks (during which time I had integrated with 2 other payment processors) and many promises to send over the API docs, an email arrives. It has about a dozen PHP files attached. What the... ?!?!?!

We never used that company.
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
1/8/2014 | 12:54:28 PM
MongoDB Owes Success To Developer Focus
MongoDB's huge success is in large part attributable to its focus on developers -- catering to them, making their life easier, etc.
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 12:53:32 PM
Re: Evolution is tough
The first monthly payment we made to Amazon Web Services was for around $1.50.  Within 2 years, we were paying around $15K/month.  What's great about technology--and why software is eating the world--is that the benefits to software are huge.  And while individual software developers don't have huge expense accounts, they do have enormous influence on the future of an organization's spend.

So I am not trying to say that vendors need to price their products at less than $10/month/user in perpetuity.  I'm saying that they need to have an offering that allows developers to get up and running without human interaction or waiting that would serve as an on-ramp to very large checks down the line.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/8/2014 | 12:35:05 PM
Evolution is tough
Joe, You call out VMware and Oracle as examples of companies that have to change. However, this call to action reminds me of the disruption that hit the publishing industry, with customers demanding easy access to content, with no or very minimal cost.

That begs the question: Where is the R&D money coming from to create all this great software? Maybe, at volume, a $10/month per seat cost can maintain the infrastructure, but I'm not seeing where the ongoing innovation comes from.
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