We usually like to provide tips and tricks on the Orion product line in this blog, but on occasion, we’ll slip in a bit on our philosophy.  What I wanted to share today is how SolarWinds approach to product creation is different than most vendors of IT management software, and why that’s good for our customers.

What most traditional enterprise software vendors do is try to create a product that is differentiated on features.  That is, they put together long checklists of features, piling up green checks of awesomeness under their own name and red x’s of failure under the names of their competitors.  And why not?  Checklists are simple.  Even your boss’s boss can understand a checklist.  The problem is that for most product categories, every vendor has had all the most important features for a long time.  The only way to out-feature your competitors is to create increasingly esoteric features that only a few customers actually need.  So vendors tell stories about exciting new trends to try to convince everyone that they need the new features.  If you’ve been in IT more than a few years, you remember when CMDB, Single Sign-on, or BSM were hot stuff, and each promised to revolutionize IT.   These trends, when they are new, sound great to IT analysts and journalists who read and talk trends all day.  They’re newness junkies—it keeps them from going mad talking about the same thing over and over. 

But there’s a dark side to the obsession with newness.  It means that the product vendor spends almost all of their engineering effort on building the next big thing to attract fresh customers who are looking to try out the newest trend.  And those new features lead to complexity in the product, which leads to resource-intensive deployment and management.  As a result, solving the more pedestrian problems of existing customers often goes by the board. 

Worse yet, those hot new features are often not ready for prime time.  Gartner, the biggest name among the IT analysts, even named this whole process the “hype cycle” in recognition of the fact that during the time that some new tech trend gets most of the attention from the media, that technology is not especially productive.  By the time the technology is actually useful enough to help real IT pros get work done, the media and the product vendors are all, “Bored now.”  And on they move to the new, new thing.

So how is SolarWinds different?  We consciously avoid focusing on the latest IT fad.  Instead, we try to provide new solutions to the problems you already have.  We’ve found that the vast majority of users still have the same old problems because the early solutions were too expensive or too hard to use or not, in fact, solutions at all.  We take another cut at the situation, informed by the mistakes of the past.  Imagine if you could rebuild the house you’re living in today now that you’ve lived in it a while.  Wouldn’t you do a better job?  The cutting edge products are forced to guess at what users are going to need because the users don’t even know yet.    Once everyone has spent some time with the new technology, the real day-to-day challenges become more obvious. 

One of the difficult things about this approach is knowing which of the many lingering issues we should tackle.  There are only a few “hot” features that everyone’s chasing, but there are a host of old problems that remain poorly solved or completely ignored.  How do we choose?  Simple—our users tell us.  We take a user-centric approach to building software.  That’s why we created thwack—to make it easier to listen to our users.  And that’s why SolarWinds product managers spend so much time listening and talking to users on the forums and on the phones on a daily basis.  To be successful by breaking old ground, we have to listen closely to what you really need. 

So what’s your takeaway?  Well, now that you understand a little more of how we’re wired, then you should understand what buttons to push.  Spell out your unmet needs, even if they’ve been around for a while (um..please stick to your IT management needs.  We like you and all, but there are things we’re pretty sure we don’t want to know).  Tell us why it’s important, and we’ll do what we can to provide a solution.  Even if our current products aren’t in that space.  Tell us anyway.  Our eyes and ears are open to new opportunities.   We may surprise you.