ANALYSIS & OPINION
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Expanding the market for informatics software

In her final article on the challenges facing long-established informatics software vendors, Gloria Metrick considers their expansion into new markets but concludes that, as ever, the customers’ needs are the driving force

There are two ways in which software vendors can expand. They may try to move into markets that are somewhat new to them. At the same time, they can look to occupy other niches in the markets that they are already serving, by adding new capabilities to their software.

In this way, for example, Autoscribe has pushed its product into the ELN/LES space, and Thermo Fisher Scientific spoke of SampleManager as an LES. Each software vendor mentions now being in markets that were new as they try to expand their products into emerging markets. Additionally, they also describe how their products themselves have expanded to have both features of interest in other industries and features found in other types of products.

But a common thread runs through this entire series of articles: in the end, the customers and their purchasing decisions will decide whether software vendors will thrive.

I started this series of articles by looking at The challenge of change for informatics software, and concluded that vendors need to be invested in their solutions in order to keep customers satisfied. In my second article, Informatics software out of the box? I examined the challenges of keeping up with customers’ changing needs and with changes in technology. I discovered that vendors plan their upgrade ahead very carefully, so their customers can themselves plan for the upgrades and that, fundamentally, the vendors do not want to ‘surprise’ their customers. It is not surprising, therefore, that user experience and customer satisfaction are at the forefront of efforts to expand.

User experience

User experience (UX) is the discipline that studies human-computer interaction. We used to vaguely ask if products were ‘user friendly’, but now we all realise that is a subjective issue. As such, it is now addressed by UX professionals. Thermo Fisher Scientific uses third-party UX consultants to ensure ease of use in their products. Matt Grulke, director of marketing and product management for Thermo, says that evidence of this is apparent in their LES (Laboratory Execution System). LVS (LabVantage Solutions) has a dedicated UX designer, and UX is the key to keeping the product looking modern as well as for creating new features, says Kim Charles, the company’s marketing manager.

One point that Matt Grulke shared is that the user interface paradigm shift has been the greatest change in software in recent years. Today’s products look and are used so much differently from their old character cell versions. Even the older Windows-based versions are much different from what we use today.

Back to the customer

The commonalities among these three companies probably also exist in other companies that have maintained their products through the years. At all times, however, the major focus comes back to the customer. Merely keeping products current offers some benefit, but if customers do not agree that those benefits are worthwhile, those customers will not upgrade. They might even jump to an entirely different product. Each software vendor either specifically says (or at least implies) that, for all the planning their companies do, for all the surveys and other efforts they make to stay current, they still have to give customers reasons to upgrade and stay with the product. They have to keep track of the business reasons behind all the changes to justify to customers that the upgrades are worth making.

In the end, it does all come back to the customer. While we may say that customers cannot easily switch products because of the immense investment they make in these implementations, we also have to acknowledge that customers will not put up with products that do not provide enough value to them. In the end, it truly is the customers and how they choose to use their budgets that determine whether and how well software vendors will thrive.

Gloria Metrick started this series of articles by looking at The challenge of change for informatics software. In her second article, Informatics software out of the box?, she examines the challenges of keeping up with customers’ changing need and with changes in technology.

Gloria Metrick is the owner of GeoMetrick Enterprises (www.geometrick.com), specialising in the implementation of Thermo Scientific SampleManager and the LabWare LIMS/ELN products. GeoMetrick Enterprises is the home of Out on a LIMS: The Newsletter and Blog For People Who Risk Life and LIMS on a Daily Basis.

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