The hate Josh Greenbaum refers to in "This Just In: Customers Hate Their Software Vendors" (October 2005) is a two-way street. You've undoubtedly heard support specialists refer to solving a "RTFM" problem. Yup, customers don't always read the software manuals.
And then there are the customers who insist that software must accommodate archaic policies and procedures. One large international engineering firm insisted that it had to have a 100,000-item Chart of Accounts — it didn't use subledgers for employee expenses, for example. Not surprisingly, it took awhile to sort out the needed reports — and posting took even more time. Was this a software or a customer problem?
Some customers blithely accept whatever salespeople tell them. I've been "behind" in competitive evaluations even when competitors' systems exist only on paper. A phantom system can do anything.
Of course, the customer is always right. I once worked for a CEO who was anxious to please and desperate to sign contracts. The development staff was already swamped while he was selling new versions. At the users group meeting, the buyers of those never-to-be-seen versions were told that they forced us into agreeing to those features to satisfy their requirements, so they would just have to wait — and they bought it!
While I'm not going to defend vendors' support, upgrade cost and frequency, misleading claims or confusing pricing, customers set and reinforce vendor behavior with their spending dollars.
I once conducted a focus group with a competitor's customers. At one point the interviewer summarized what a customer had just said (and I'm not exaggerating — we've got it on tape): "So, XYZ has been working on your data warehouse for five years, your run rate is about $8M per year for consulting, the data warehouse has a total of five users and you expect it to generate the key reports in about a year. Is that right?" The customer said yes. The interviewer then asked him to rate the vendor on a scale from 1 to 10. The answer? Eight! Even my jaded jaw dropped.
Doug Henschen's "Emerging Standard Eases Content Modeling Headaches" (Dashboard, September 2005) presented a glossy picture of DITA. Many technical writers think DITA is a panacea that will spell the end of content modeling. IBM DITA guru Dave Schell will tell you to always model your content before you move to any standard. Otherwise, how can you know if a standard is right for your organization? If you view your content as an asset, content modeling is a no-brainer.
Content Management Strategist
Author's reply: DITA is being embraced precisely because it's a standard that accommodates specialization. One impact may be less up-front analysis work for consultants.