A Product Roadmap in a Feed
Strategic Board was initially an idea about a new competitive intelligence/market intelligence tool for enterprises in the IT sector. Since then many things have changed including our concept and vision and probably the only permanent thing here is me and Strategic Board the name itself:)
One of the building blocks a competitive intelligence tool is required to have in order to be effective is comparisons and more specifically product comparisons. Product comparisons, whether it is about comparing the featureset of different products, conducting a SWOT analysis or building a comparative pricing table, are done manually with many errors accumulated in the information collection process. Information is collected ad hoc, via rumours, web sites, google cache pages:), some lost presentation of a competitor and other "creative" ways.
Product roadmap/capabilities in a feed is a concept I was contemplating on as a viable future direction for product manufacturers in the web 2.0 era. Let's imagine that every company, (IBM, Microsoft, Google, GM, AIG and others) will provide several rss feeds that are named after every product they manufacture. For example feeds such as:
product_xxx_pricing.rss: pricing updates (date – price change – xml price tags – description)
product_xxx_features.rss: product feature releases ( date – feature description – affecting module – maybe some taxonomy identifier)
product_xxx_roadmap.rss: planned product releases ( similar as the features feed but with future dates)
product_xxx_issues.rss: bugs and problems in a product (This kind of feed already exists in several forms)
Needless to say what this kind of information pool can do to automate and improve many processes that exist and don't exist today (comparison shopping, competitive analysis, customer service/support, etc…) and of course will make many web 2.0 entrepreneurs happy:)
The point I want to deal with here is the objections that immediately rise from the high level of transparency required from a manufacturer to do so. The main fear is the fact that your competitor will know where you are right now in terms of development and what are your future plans and that will potentially enable them to devise a preventing and winning strategy.
All along the history of commerce this fear has been the border line for openness and it has always been broken to serve a higher level of communications required between a company and its constituencies (customers, suppliers, investors, employees). We can see a similar scenario in public companies who expose their guts to the SEC and the public eyes and still it does not kill them. I believe that we are dealing with the same story here all over again, and that it is just a matter of having a strong industry leader taking up the torch to show the advantages (wake up IBM).
The strategic fear in this case is much more realistic when you hide the details and stay on the watch and really does not exist in the situation when you are open on what you have to offer. In other words, the fear itself is what frightens and nothing else.
Being open on what is your value proposition takes the sting out of the fear equation and creates a new level of comfort between the company and the customers that is unparallel to what your competitors have to offer.
If I assume that I have a good argument for opening up the so called "secretive" plans and details on what a company has to offer then here is a very small list of good things that can emerge from this move (and I believe that many other good minds can think on much better ideas)
1) Online product comparison and analysis at all levels, regardless whether the product you want to evaluate is a small mini camera or a small business CRM, getting an objective comparison instantly can be invaluable.
2) Deep stock analysis – having the history of pricing, features and roadmap can give a very strong picture on who and what is behind the corporate curtains.
3) Online and vendor-neutral product configurators that let you build a product from different vendors together with price optimizations that let you as a buyer the power of awareness to your real options.
4) Ever strong feedback loop between enthusiastic/disappointed users and the vendor thanks to this information flow. Imagine the use of blog commenting on a post about a specific product pricing/feature, which is also integrated into the company CRM sales/support/marketing modules.
5) Semantic web applications to help achieve a greater understanding on an industry acceleration rate or downfall.
6) Vendor reputation systems that track vendors deliverables vs promises.
And much much more!
My opinion is that most objections are only perceived problems and the level of transparency that exists de facto in an industry today is not really rational as we wish to think it is. Companies usually become open on what their competitors have done few weeks ago just to level up without giving much though to it. See what open source is doing to Microsoft.
As for Strategic Board we plan on doing that (at least a features vs. roadmap feeds) and I will update on the availability of the feeds in this blog.