You might be surprised to find out how worked up I can get about an issue like switching costs (a.k.a. lock-in). It's a question worthy of at least a little emotion, since it affects the fortunes of technology companies: Under what conditions would a customer switch to a different vendor for the same product or service?
The question has returned with a vengeance with the increased adoption of SaaS and PaaS technologies. Tech vendors are happy to use the cloud as an easy way to attract customers, as long as it doesn't turn into an equally easy way to lose customers.
What gets my dander up is the simplistic, puerile way in which people sometimes discuss this issue, particularly in regard to SaaS implementations. Here are a couple of examples.
Cost Of Switching
How do the switching costs of an on-demand solution compare to an on-premise alternative? Clearly, the cost of switching from an on-demand solution is not zero, and yet you still find in some discussions of SaaS the assumption that customers will leave willy-nilly. Nor is the cost of switching the same as an on-premise solution, but you'll find people speaking about the two as if they presented the same migration and implementation challenges.
As I said in my last blog post, we're looking for feedback on the questions we're asking about thought leadership in the technology industry. At the same time, we realized that it has been a while since we held an open house in Forrester's Foster City office. (If you're not aware, we did a few informal sessions for product managers and product marketers, to give people in that role an opportunity to talk amongst themselves about topics of interest, sprinkled with whatever useful information an analyst like myself can provide.) Suddenly, a spark leaped across the two neurons carrying these separate ideas.
We're now in Phase II of our first venture into Agile Research Development, an investigation of thought leadership in the technology industry. Phase II is when we start the actual primary research, and again, we're looking to the community for their help and guidance. The story so far:
Published the development document, which explains how we'll proceed. Supporting documents, such as this overview of Agile Research Development, are also part of the project dossier.
Incorporated feedback from the community into the development document. Many thanks to everyone who provided suggestions and criticisms of the original research plan, as described in the development document. In fact, if you haven't read the comments on the development document, I strongly recommend that you do. There are some real nuggets in there about a thought leadership, a topic of vital importance to tech vendors, their partners, and their customers.
How You Can Help
First, we need another round of review. This time, we're looking for your feedback on the interview guide. Are these the questions you want answered? Have we missed anything? I've annotated the interview guide to explain some of the reasoning behind the current draft, which is my way of getting the discussion going.
Two recent articles from The New York Times illustrate why, for innovation to work, you need to keep updating your playbook.
Serious Games And Biochemical Research
When a team of researchers at the University of Washington wanted to unlock the puzzle of protein folding – a complex process that moves faster than we can observe – they decided to crowdsource the investigation. The team posed the question as a serious game, a medium that sometimes produces better answers than what people normally envision as the process of crowdsourcing.
Instead of just throwing out the question (How do our bodies build these proteins?) to an anonymous audience that may or may not have been motivated to answer it, the researchers built a game, Foldit, that simulated the protein-building process. The motivations were no different than any game: the satisfaction of beating the game at some level; the score that both rewards you for your current level of accomplishment and dares you to do better; the public standings that inject another level of competition beyond beating your last score. Humans can be very competitive creatures, even when the only rewards are intangible, which is why certain types of serious games often stimulate more participation than other approaches to a problem. (Check out the book Drive by Daniel Pink for one explanation of this behavior.)