More is Not Better

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When it comes to technology in construction, I encounter two themes time and again.

From providers I see solutions that I can best describe as “Walls of Text”, that is to say huge, unapproachable applications with dry, generic-looking,  form-driven interfaces.  – Why is it that you NEVER see a screenshot of a project management solution? Because they all look the same, that’s why!  – Regardless of their application, these solutions feature the Mega Swiss Army Knife approach to software by loading up on countless features that require hours of training before a user can begin to use them productively.

The Mega Swiss Army Knife

On the customer side I hear overwhelming frustration. From users in large, actually the largest, organizations that commit to the mega solution,  there’s the time commitment for training, the time spent on data input, status updates and managing data exchanges with project partners.  Often times, for those in “smaller” organizations (i.e. those with less than $200 million in sales), there is a feeling that these huge enterprise apps are elephant guns when all they need is a .22 caliber rifle. It’s no surprise that many of those in the latter group turn to home-baked solutions for project management, estimating, accounting and other back office functions. That’s right, they choose to develop the software and infrastructure, pay for maintenance and then risk obsolescence rather than dance with the 800 lb gorilla.

What’s the answer? Obviously, no one has offered anything worth embracing yet. My hunch is that the key to the winning solution will be in the interface.  Construction is one of the most tangible, relevant industry in our economy, yet the software in which the industry conducts its business is mired in text and numeric data.  The one solution that actually wins over a significant chunk of market share* will be the one that breaks from the mold and translates that data in a visual manner worthy of the industry that it serves.

*Note- despite my best efforts, I was unable to come up with any market share data for use in this post. If you have any, please provide a link in the comments.  Years ago, when I last saw this market data,  the industry was dominated by the “Other” category with major players like Prolog barely registering in the double digits. It’s no wonder that none of the current software providers include actual market share in their press releases. Instead, they boast of their “X percent” increases over previous years. Which, of course, is code for “We’re embarrassed to tell you how little of this market we actually own.”

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6 Responses to “More is Not Better”

  1. PM Hut Says:

    The problem with construction PM software is that it didn’t catch up with the technology. All of the software available on the market has a very steep learning curve and looks very outdated. Most people actually resent using this software. The problem is, most Project Managers still think that it’s a given for them to endure this torture, and the software they’re using is the only and best alternative, and they have to adapt and learn the software and not the other way around…

  2. Tweets that mention More is Not Better « Changing Construction -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rob Mathewson and Rob Mathewson, Sam Simon. Sam Simon said: RT @geedrarob: Ever wonder why #ProjectManagement software providers never show us what their products look like? | http://ow.ly/1tEhB […]

  3. Vik Duggal Says:

    Rob,

    I think there’s a few reasons (aside from what you mention) that the providers are unable to get large market share. One, they can sell their sub-par product to a handful of customers and they keep them for a long time because of relationship (I see this A LOT in the construction industry). This is the primary reason there are so many of these PM tools that have v. little market share.

    The second reason is that companies with “better” products out there tend to have one flaw, tying the customer need for an updated tool with a business result. It’s tough to change the game in the industry and when you do, you have to combat this difficult (here’s my solution…it’s coming) with contacts. Yes, you need to get the guys who have the relationships that can buy into the updated/current product and get it into the doors of the organizations. They often times know and understand what the customer needs and are easily able to tie it to a result because of the relationship.

    Lastly, this isn’t a game of solutions, it’s a game of relationships. Once a provider understands this they are able to build market share (even if it’s small). I think the best bet here for providers is to NOT blow out the competition completely with something revolutionary. Build something that’s just a little bit better than the competition (so customers can see something familiar) and then once inside the company buying the solution, start to elevate their game with new features.

    What do you think? Great topic; great post.

    • Rob Mathewson Says:

      Vik,

      Interesting argument, but I’m not buying it. Relationships DO mean a lot in construction. But after all this time, you would think that a consensus would have formed around a few products so that they emerge as market leaders. Relationships can certainly drive awareness. But awareness of mediocrity will never create a compelling case for a leader to emerge. Some day, that one “IT” product will arrive and those same relationships will spread the word like wildfire.

  4. Duane Craig Says:

    The construction software industry is so fragmented and proprietary it’s a wonder anything gets done. All the vendors are protecting their little turfs. I was talking to a VP of a large construction firm who told me the company was still using Excel spreadsheets and cobbling together various packages only to end up with a system that users were turned off by. They did that because the packages they investigated only went so far. Kind of like leading you to the edge of the cliff and then saying, well, you’ll have to hook up with some of our partners to do that function. I have the CFMA’s 2008 survey and just in the project management field there are at least 40 choices. But Sage is practically tied with Other and None-they’re all at about 15 percent. Everybody else, including MS Project, Primavera and Prolog are in the mid single digits. It may be the web solutions are going to grab this market.

  5. Paul Wilkinson Says:

    Interesting post – not least because it repeats something I’ve felt increasingly strongly over recent years: construction project and/or document collaboration software is almost always dull (only yesterday, I blogged about a vendor which was trying to make the UI more configurable, and providing desktop gadgets; though there are some valiant efforts to deliver simpler solutions, eg: Woobius’s collaboration application is refreshingly straightforward to use).

    Often designed by construction professionals for other construction professionals, most AEC solutions end up looking almost identical, and there seems to be a belief that because construction is complex its software should be complex too. The learning curves involved then make it difficult for a user to switch to other solutions without having to undergo yet more laborious training and familiarisation – and that’s without looking at whether data can be easily switched from one solution to another.

    I worked for a vendor in the SaaS collaboration sector in the UK, and having written a book about the sector and continued to blog about it, I started to look for market share data, but there was/is none.

    In the early years, we used to look at the numbers of projects, companies or active users, but this relied upon vendors being honest about the figures and keeping them up-to-date (too often, we get numbers that reflect all users registered since year dot!).

    Looking at revenues gives some indication of the relative positions of different vendors (assuming all their revenues come from construction and/or the software type in question), but some companies don’t publish detailed financial data, and – in any event – how do you quantify market share in a sector (like project collaboration) where in-house alternatives such as SharePoint, FTP, shared drives or email may may be suggested?

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