Over the last couple of decades, there has been an exponential growth in the number of software applications available on various platforms. This has been a bitter-sweet deal for businesses. On one side they have plenty of choices and can find the right tool for the job but on the other hand, finding the right solution has been like playing a game of roulette. Businesses are taking a chance by choosing a solution but they still may not be sure if it is going to work out well for their business. Most of the businesses end-up fighting with the tool or they have to change their business processes to accommodate the tool. Both have costs associated with them in terms of money and opportunity. It is no surprise, even after having so many options the biggest competitor to a software vendor is not another software vendor but they are spreadsheets which are custom-built to solve a specific business problem.
Software application discovery has some glaring issues. The top 5% of the software applications dominate 80% of the market-share. This phenomenon is more evident in the consumer space because of primary dependence on search engines for discovery. As an example, there are over 1.9 million apps listed in the Apple AppStore but the top 100 apps are responsible for over 80% of all downloaded apps. It’s not because those apps were the ultimate solutions but because the discovery is broken where once an app becomes popular it dominates the search results. This drown-outs the niche solutions as the search keywords are polluted by the popular content.
Software industry suffers from “winner takes all” phenomenon where there is a feedback loop among popular apps and the search engines where they get more famous for being famous. It seems quite apparant that the algorithms which are used for software discovery are similar to the ones used in content discovery even though their charactristics are very different. Software applications are usually specialized tools to solve specific problems and popularity similar to content popularity may signal stability of the tool given it's used by a larger user base but it does not necessarily mean that it is a good tool for the job in hand. There is a long-tail of software solutions which are ignored because of the feedback loop. This has led to the popularity and usage of the lowest common denominator tool rather than the right tool for the job. The irony of the situation is that the music and the book industry have innovated themselves using the long-tail of discovery and have proven the commercial viability of the long-tail by using software.
Based on our experience talking to businesses about this problem we found three popular ways businesses tend to discover solutions for their problems:
- Industry research firms
- Word of mouth
- Online review sites
Let’s take a look at each individual approach in finding the solution:
1. Industry research firms
Most industry research firms periodically publish reports and have consulting services to help businesses in finding solutions. There are multiple proprietary frameworks published by each of these firms in grading and evaluating software solutions. To that end, the services from these firms tend to be pricey which may not be accessible to most businesses. Even for a large corporation, certain departments don’t have the budget to hire research firms as it may not be considered as a core competency of the business and therefore, can’t justify the cost associated with it. Another challenge with research firms is that their research may not have breadth in the solutions they look into for their analysis, as an example most of the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) are usually not included in their analysis.
2. Word of mouth
People tend to keep their knowledge and connections with them when they move from one job to another. During software evaluation most people tend to leverage their prior knowledge and connections. More often than not, the thinking is that if a solution worked in their previous job then it should work in the current one as well. The problem with that thinking is that a lot of assumptions were made to evaluate the tools in the older environment which may or may not be applicable in the current one. Two companies producing exactly the same product will have different people, processes and challenges. Retrofitting a solution is usually a bad idea, even if it “worked” in the previous setting. One size does not fit all.
3. Online Review Sites
There has been a trend of “Yelpification” in the software discovery space over the last decade. The idea is that collective wisdom can be better than an opinion from an industry expert. Users who have experience with the software have been writing reviews on various review sites. However, these review sites may not be very helpful during the discovery phase as most of the reviews are quite annecdotal in nature and lack structure. Another challenge with review sites is authenticity of the reviewer, the review sites are not going to take responsibility for recommending a bad product on their platform. Reviews have their place and can be a very good tool in validating your decision but they may not be helpful in finding the right tool.
To sum it up, the effects of deficiencies in software discovery are:
- Narrow research available on an individual category of software solution available
- One size does not filt all which means the best solution in a category may not be best for an individual business
- Popularity of the lowest common denominator tool rather the right tool for the job
- It is not cheap for businesses even to evaluate solutions using "try before you buy" or "freemium" models.