Joshua Kim, senior learning technologist and an adjunct in sociology at Dartmouth College, recently had a series of posts about working with software vendors. Although Joshua's focus is with learning technologies (course management systems, lecture capture systems, etc.), these are general enough to be useful in a variety of library environments as well. His posts, hosted by Inside Higher Ed, were:
- "A Manifesto for Vendor Webinars" (January 31, 2010)
- "5 Questions Your Company Must Answer" (March 4, 2010)
- "Toward a Product Evaluation Framework" (March 7, 2010)
Here are descriptions or excerpts from each of the posts.
In the first, Joshua describes guidelines for vendors delivering presentations. (Joshua is describing webinars, but I think the guidelines apply to all forms of vendor product presentations.) For instance: "Your webinar should not be about your product, service or company, but about the problem that your product, service or company solves for your potential customer (us)." And: "You need to assume that your audience is comparing your product/service again your competitors. This means that you need to be willing to make direct contrasts and comparisons about why and how you believe that your platform/application/service solves our needs to a greater extent than your competition." (As an aside, Ed Corrado today points to the post of another blogger on Inside Higher Ed on the same topic.)
Next up, albeit a month later, is a post on questions a company must answer when presenting a product to a potential buyer. He points out that "these questions have little to do with features or technologies, although these are the topics on which companies usually spend most of their time." Rather, like the first post, he advises companies to focus on focus on "what problem does adopting to or switching to your platform/service/product solve for our institution/division/department?" In addition to Joshua's five questions, a commenter adds one on data portability -- how easy is it to get one's data out of the system for migration to another. That is one that libraries should take to heart.
A few days later is a post with 10 points that form the framework that "is designed to guide the evaluation process (as well as the writing of requirements), with a goal of moving away from features, design etc. (which will change) towards a more strategic method." Although the post commenters take Joshua to task for his conservative approach ("Someone has to be first [to adopt a new product]; it shouldn't be you."), I like how he clearly articulates areas that should be considered when evaluating a product.
I like Joshua's blog, and suggest academic librarians should add it to your reading list. Learning technology overlaps a great deal with academic library technology, and he writes clearly about his perspective of bringing services to the same users we serve.