I just recently attended Interop Las Vegas, the largest IT industry Saturnalia this side of CES. I was prepared to write about the latest and greatest solutions that the industry was showing. On the flight down I made my way through Pip Coburn’s The Change Function, a fascinating examination of why technologies succeed and fail. The book is built on the simple yet sagacious premise that “People are only willing to change and accept new technologies when the pain of their current situation outweighs the perceived pain of trying something new”
Wireless was one simple example of new technology success that met the postulate. The real problem that wireless solved was more personal freedom to work when and where you want. I like that. The technical category of “wireless,” however, doesn’t describe a solution it describes the product.
The plane landed and our taxi made its circuitous route from McCarran to the Mandalay Bay convention center. At the show we crossed through the clinging and clanging of slot machines and joined the herd entering the exposition hall. It was at that point I decided to change my approach to this show. Instead of asking each company what they were selling or what product they were announcing or what was their latest demo, my first question was this: What problem do you solve? And so it began…. booth after booth after booth the response as the same. First, a brief pause. Then, the non-answer: “Our product does xyz.” Or worse “Were in the xyz business” OK great, but what pain are you alleviating from my day to day management of my enterprise? I was surprised by the insouciant response.
As the IT industry continues its evolution, it will need to focus on solving problems over describing products. It sounds self evident, but was clearly not apparent at Interop.