Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Marketing bullshit or looking for a silver bullet

Have you ever paid attention to vendors’ promo pages and how they promise you the moon? It’s been always interesting to observe how they manage to count your saved money and compose comparison charts the way competitors completely suck displaying such charateristics you can't come up with any idea why they exist at all if so.

I think these 2 examples I’ve stumbled upon recently illustrate this approach better than words can say.

Zoho Creator can count your saved time and money, see? They already know!

The full version can be checked here.

What especially amazes me in this table is 0 in "Data Modeling" row of Zoho Creator. Do system developers really believe there is no need to think how to organize data in the system? The truth is you have to think about it and this is an important moment that defines future functionality of the application.

My point is you’ll have to pay more attention to it in Zoho Creator (and in any other PaaS system), therefore spend more time on it than with Traditional Model. All these platforms have their own peculiarities and limitations and there is a huge probability you will go non standard way organizing the data to build needed reports or get an acceptable app performance and work efficiently within the app.

There is one more peculiarity this table of "saved time" doesn’t mention. Each PaaS (unlike Traditional Model that uses only well known proven methods and instruments) has its own unique approach you’ll have to learn. Take Zoho Creator Deluge Script, for example. Believe me it takes some time before you know how to deal with that.

I’d say even more. It seems to me that in general time spent on PaaS solution can even exceed time Traditional Model requires. The same situation with money. The thing is it’s not that obvious for the cycle is extended. It means you get the app that works really quickly and you have to invest your time until you see its good enough.

This is one more example how vendors compare their products with competitors. Let’s take a closer look at WorkXpress:

Full version of this you can find here.

Laugh all you want, but vendors really believe there is no system that can compete with WorkXpress. We can simply shut our eyes to this for parents always believe their children are the best in the world with no flaws at all. I can’t say exactly how far this "Anyone can use" axis goes and where the vendor places his own product, but I couldn’t jump start with it at once without reading a tutorial. And that wasn’t necessary while testing other products. Maybe this is just me or I am simply too dumb to handle these new 5GL system?

Who knows? I decided to check if things were different with my old friend, software developer for many years by the way. Just asked him to create a table with 2 columns to input two numbers where the 3 column displays the result of its division without any tutorial or help. And guess what.. It was quite a surprise he didn’t manage to handle it and just gave up. Is something wrong with us?

So, I want to say that marketing people seem to create these pages with no knowledge of product actual advantages and what really distinguishes it from the rest of competitors. But they know its limitations very well. The funny thing is somehow they manage to present it as product advantages. That’s why I’d strongly recommend you to check these pages so you know what can cause issues in the future.

And don’t forget there is no better way to get a complete picture than try and check yourself.


  1. I work for a small manufacturing company in NJ (SERVOLIFT LLC)and 3 years ago we decided to improve our business by acquiring a company wide ERP system. We did quite a lot of research and found that WorkXpress met our needs. We needed an easily customizable system that was affordable. We did not have the budget to hire a programmer and train him on our business, so I chose to build it myself. I have to tell you we are extremely happy!

    It is simple to build what you need, drag and drop fields, make relationships, ... Reporting is a breeze too.

    I am not a programmer but I knew how our business works and exactly what I wanted our new system to do. I was able to build a complete system on my own, at night, that runs our entire business. The system really is fantastic and I can access it all on my Iphone (which I do every time I travel).

    Yes, there was a small amount of instruction that I needed to get going, but that was negligible compared to the time it took to build the system.

    WorkXpress delivered what they promised and more. Also, the support I received during development and continue to receive now is top quality. I would strongly recommend them to anyone in need of such a system.

    Tom Lertola
    Servolift LLC

  2. Would Mr. Lertola use a hosted application from a company with the foreknowledge that said vendor was undercapitalized and had no inherent guarantee that future operations could be sustained. I am not commenting on WorkXpress' finances (I don't know), but I am wondering in general?

  3. Tom, I have no doubt you managed to accomplish what you wanted within WorkXpress. Maybe thats my issue, but the good news is I've got time to clear up how it's done and with 3 years of experience as it is by you my impression will be quite different.

  4. Dear Jane, I understand your frustration and what you, your friend, and many other users of PaaS systems experience. What you describe is what makes the adoption of PaaS a challenge, and makes it very slow.

    From my experience, your claims are both TRUE and FLAWED. I am a People-Driven Market Leadership and change management specialist, and a long time user of PaaS systems.

    Your claims are TRUE, because just like so many people trying to use PaaS to replace “hard coding,” including myself, the transition to these systems can be very frustrating. Our frustrating experiences then lead us to think that these PaaS providers’ claims are at best over statements, or pure marketing “puffery.”

    Your claims are also FLAWED, because like most of us, you are trying to evaluate and use these PaaS platforms coming from either a “hard coding” or an “MS Excel” perspective and mindset. Our mindset is what sets our expectations, user experience, and learning curve when using these platforms.

    The HARD CODING mindset leads us to discard the possibilities (and claims) of PaaS providers, because we believe we “know” everything it takes to architect, design, launch and operate an application. The truth is we know everything there is to know when using Hard Coding, but we don’t know and cannot see, understand and accept what it takes to build an application with a specific PaaS system.

    When coming from an MS EXCEL mindset, we wish that the PaaS will allow us to build complex applications in the same exact intuitive way than MS Excel does with Spreadsheets (...using only the basic functions of Excel, such as adding a couple of columns). NO PaaS system that I know gives you the capacity to build complex apps like you would put together a spreadsheet.

    THE BIGGEST MISTAKE OF PaaS PROVIDERS is they create both their marketing messaging and technology adoption strategies (including the training of their new users) as if people were already coming from THEIR mindsets and philosophy. They don’t recognize that their audience is coming from a completely different mindset.

    This GAP in mindsets creates the steep learning curve that generates all the frustrations all of us are experiencing when using a new PaaS system (... it also generates our feeling of being mislead or even “unshamefully” lied to by PaaS providers)

    MY EXPERIENCE with PaaS providers and their systems is that most of their claims are true (...ONCE YOU ARE PASSED THE LEARNING CURVE and that you have THEIR mindset).

    The real problem is providers DON’T proactively manage and preemptively address the needed mindset change of their new users.

    - Starting with NO knowledge of programming, it takes an individual 9 to 18 months of learning to be proficient at hard coding and to be able to build applications that the same person with no knowledge of programming could build after 2 to 8 weeks of learning using a PaaS
    - When using a PaaS, you don’t have to hard code, test and maintain the back end of the application you are building, and you don’t have to hard code and test the different pre-programmed components and functionalities, because they are already part of the platform.

    There is a saying in application development that “once you have 90% of your app hard coded, you still have 90% of the work to do. This 90% refers to the back-end development and the app’s QA and fixing.

    PaaS systems are great and can save you time and money, as long as you come from the same mindset and philosophy than the provider you are using. Each PaaS comes from a different philosophy, which brings with it advantages and limitations. Each PaaS is best suited for a specific type of application, or a specific level of complexity of application.

    I am happy to answer any question you may have and to discuss my experience. You can contact me at

  5. Marc: Well said.

    WorkXpress does not look like Excel or Word or MS Access therefore you will need a little guidance (if you are familiar with the concept of a relational database it really is a very little guidance).

    Maybe it helped me that I had no programming experience because I did not go into this with any predetermined ideas on how it should work.

    Just to give you an idea of the time it took to create, we had a fully functioning system that runs our entire business in about 6 or 7 months and I was only working on it part time.

    I still work with it and add to the system constantly. I am always looking for ways to improve our business process and I also get a lot of user requests (Can it do this or that?). The system is so easy to use and make changes to that I only wish I had more time to work on it. My To-Do list grows faster than I can keep up with.