In a recently published article, “Forget Improvements, Systems Management Needs a New Approach,” Denny LeCompte and I argued that the challenge around adopting application performance management is largely organizational. Software companies can help remove these organizational barriers with easy to purchase, deploy and use software. One of our competitors, NetIQ. agrees with our assessment that usability issues hold back success in IT management. In a recent NetIQ blog, written by Travis Green, he indicated usability was the focus of their latest release of AppManager v8, although to back up his claim, he describes a somewhat obscure, “big enterprise” use case.
Perhaps NetIQ uses the term differently, but when we refer to usability, we mean that the product can be learned quickly and easily, that the daily use of the product is efficient, and the experience of the product is satisfying and pleasing. Inextricable from usability is whether the product provides the proper features to solve the problems for which it is intended. SolarWinds is maniacal about our focus on getting the features right. We don’t care about winning irrelevant battles between software feature checklists. We simply won’t add a new feature because one big customer wants it; we only add features that hundreds of our customers need. In the end, SolarWinds uses the acid test of usability: If our products were not easy to use, SolarWinds would not make any money because every prospective customer downloads, installs, and deploys the software all on their own. The truth is that we don’t have any professional services staff to do it for them.
Getting a product to be usable requires focused effort and an user-centric approach to development. What this means is providing frequent and varied means of customer feedback and interaction such as:
· Usability Tests
· Iterative, user-centered design
· Customer experience interviews
· Beta programs with high participation
· An open forum (like thwack) for customers to criticize, praise, or explain their needs
· and frequent product releases.
Over the last four years, SolarWinds Server & Application monitor (SAM) has iterated on usability improvements using all of these methods, providing one major release and one minor release each year. In fact, I spoke with one customer this morning and he told me that the latest version of SAM (which shipped in March, 2012) is now one of the best products on the SolarWinds Orion base. What an accomplishment for a product with such a short life span!
Take the Technology Taste Test
I am curious to hear how NetIQ AppManager v8 customers like the new release. I am also curious when NetIQ will iterate on these improvements. For the sake of their customers, I hope the time span will not be as great as in previous releases (AppManager v7 GAed in March 2007, or nearly 5 years prior to v8). Better yet, NetIQ customers, Enterprise Systems Journal readers or anyone else should compare SolarWinds’ usability against NetIQ. Download both products and I have a pretty good idea who will win the blue ribbon, but, like I said, SolarWinds is open to constructive criticism.