Subject: Re: filtering for expensive customers?
From: simo <s@ssimo.org>
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2006 17:00:22 -0500

On Thu, 2006-12-21 at 12:10 -0500, Federico Lucifredi wrote:
> Hello All,
>    I have recently struck a reflection that I consider interesting:
> 
>   Postulate: Market analysts tell us that the #1 competitor to F/OSS 
> companies is internal expertise at the customer site: in short, if the 
> local crew is smart and attuned with the state of the software they want 
> to deploy, possibly even maintaining ties to the relevant part of the 
> community, they will deploy and support said software themselves. 
> Vendors might come in (much) later, and only because of a need to 
> blame-shift in very large/critical deployments (or in the mind of a new 
> director of IT operations ;-)
> 
>   Given the premise above, it looks like more often than not F/OSS 
> vendors are vying for the business of the customers who do *not* have 
> sufficient on-site expertise - in other words, it looks like one might 
> be selecting customers coming from the most clueless part of the pool!
> 
>   Why is this an F/OSS concern? Well, we all know that, in general, 
> engineers like to think that "customers suck", but this thinking pushes 
> it to a new level: while in the proprietary market, all customers must 
> purchase support from you, in our brave new world, only the less clueful 
>   need to. Besides the inherent higher stress this places on the support 
> crew, this is also expensive from a business perspective - the ideal 
> support customers are, obviously, the ones who never need it.
> 
>   Am I wondering about the obvious?  Perhaps I am being too pessimistic. 
> But if you accept the postulate, the thesis seems to follow.


I think I see 2 problems in this analysis.
One is that you assume that un-expert customers are also stupid/annoying
and will cause you problems. The other is that you assume in house
maintenance will cost less then "mass-maintenance". I think outsourcing
has a reason in many cases, even when inside people is technically
capable, proprietary software is nothing more then outsourced
development if you look at it.

I met very bad clueless customers in my career, but I also met
incredibly brilliant ones completely conscious of their own limits and
they were fantastic customers. It was a true pleasure in those cases to
solve problems for them as they were real problems, and your work was
duly appreciated (and paid for :)

That said it is obvious that if you concentrate on support only, support
itself is going to cost more. I think the worst negative effect of
relying on support only is that you tend to not enhance the usability of
a product to capture even more support. This is a shortsighted but
completely understandable behavior.

I believe that a good FOSS vendor is one that shows quality in all the
aspects of customer relationship and above all distributes superior
engineered packages, a well as support. This is all about competition,
the better company, with the best policies, and people, prevail.

Simo.