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Sometimes a bug fix is just a bug fix

Sometimes a bug fix is just a bug fix

Sigmund Freud once famously quipped, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." In the same vein, sometimes a bug fix is just a bug fix.

Of course, "bug fix" doesn't sound productive enough for most software vendors these days - we now have "point solutions". Marketingese like this has been around since the dawn of the computer industry, and that's what worries me. Phrases like "win-win situation", "synergies", "robust and scalable", and "best-of-breed" once actually conveyed meaningful information. Now, when industry mavens blurt out these clichŽs, their audiences barely register that they've heard any words spoken. Certainly very little substantive content gets conveyed.

Do we really want that devaluation to happen to the word "solution"? Solutions are becoming a dime a dozen. Anything bundled with another product automatically becomes a solution; it is getting so bad that any software package is now dubbed a solution, too. This trend has spread outside the computer industry - there are now "financial-investment solutions". (Silly me, I thought those financial vehicles were called mutual funds.) Soon, mop manufacturers that package their products with a bucket will be selling "industrial cleanliness solutions". My concern for the fate of the word solution is more than a pedantic scribbler fretting over the cheapening of word choice in our august language. The concept of a solution is so important to the integration channel that those at Solutions Integrator named a magazine after it. Solutions integrators should be at the forefront of the battle to keep the word's meaning intact. Let's state it plainly: a solution needs to solve a complex business problem.

Despite Microsoft's best semantic efforts, a word processor does not solve the problem of needing an efficient way to create tech-support documents. It is simply a tool. Now take those same documents, use Visual Basic for Applications, and integrate them into a system that scans them for content, automatically comparing them to invoices coming into the business from the Internet for product-name matches, and you've got the beginnings of a solution.

If this software then automatically routes the correct tech-support information to the person sending in that matching order, then you've got a full-fledged solution. The reason this word holds so much importance is that without offering real solutions, integrators would lose their value-add (another almost valueless word due to overuse). If everyone is a "solution seller", what differentiation is possible? So what is my proposed solution to this problem? It is simple enough in form: educate customers about solution selling and ask them to question anyone who claims to offer solutions when all it appears that he or she does is hawk software. Of course, this move is easier said than done; it requires a sea change on everyone's part.

The American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition) has among its definitions of the word solution one that rings true to what integrators do: the method or process of solving a problem. Focus your customer marketing efforts on your process-oriented approach. If real men don't eat quiche, then real integrators don't sell an end-goal product. They integrate their software into the whole process of doing business, and that's the actual reason why customers are willing to shell out the big bucks. Make sure your customers know that and make sure your marketing folks know how to articulate that, and we might return to a world where a AAA battery is no longer an energy-providing solution.


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