As the areas addressed by business performance management have expanded, existing performance management products have struggled to keep pace. For this reason many vendors have introduced newly architected replacements. In addition, the vendors actively involved in recent merger and acquisition activity found themselves with overlapping and redundant products. Asreplacements and new functionality intertwine, the byproduct is often a graveyard of dead products. While vendor strategy and user reaction will vary, we can identifygood approaches and those less so.

Let’s look at the vendors first. At some point in time, every vendor needs to take a leap to a new product. This is different than the normal release process that is largely about bug fixes and new enhancements. Dramatic technology changes, major new areas of functionality or acquisitions often create the need for redesign and replacement. While this is usually the right thing to do to stay competitive in the marketplace, it’s not without its major challenges. It is always a significant trial for a vendor to introduce a replacement product to the customer base. Customers, while seeking new functionality, do not want to learn a new product or convert data and customization tables, nor do they want to pay for consulting or a fee to upgrade to the new product. If they don’t make the move, the vendor has a big problem. These customers become a support burden. They stop being usable as references because they are not using the new product that prospects are evaluating. The greatest risk is that this disgruntled group considers moving to another vendor. When competitors become aware, they target this group with special offers. Someone who is sour on a competitor and willing to talk about it makes for a perfect new customer.

The best of the performance management vendors handle this challenging transition by communicating. They announce their intent to deliver a new product and clearly spell out the wind-down plan for the existing solution. This enables users to make rational decisions based on real data. To entice the mostusers to the new product release, vendors will offer incentives in addition to the advantages of improved and enhanced functionality. For example, they may waive upgrade fees for some period of time and provide free conversion utilities for data and system configuration files. They can recoup some of these costs with maintenance fees calculated from the new (higher) license fees. A benefit of this approach is that vendors are protecting their client base and minimizing turnover. These customer conversions can quickly become early references for the new product.

The less open and honest vendors (unfortunately there are some) approach the situation a little differently. Quite often they don’t announce, and if confronted won’t admit, that a product is dead. They will try to interest their customers in moving to new products butwon’t tell them the one they are currently using has been discontinued. Behind the scenes, they quietly reassign programmers and no longer enhance the old product or fix bugs (except in dire situations when a newly discovered bug is a showstopper). The thinking is that the product is functionally robust enough to keep customers happy for years to come and that most of the critical bugs were found and corrected long ago. From a support perspective, these vendors will keep a skeleton crew of junior staff available to handle the occasional support call, yet this small group will shrink over time. In the end,for minimal cost, they can hope to keep customers in the dark and happy enough that they won’t consider looking at alternative solutions. Hopefully, when customers need new functionality they will look to their vendor’s newer offerings.

The problem is that when a vendor doesn’t announce that a product is officially dead, it becomes frozen in time, so to speak, and customers are making decisions based on incomplete data. Some customers already have policies against using discontinued products for mission-critical processes (such as front-office decision-making). Armed with the facts, organizations may delay training new groups on the system or investing in building new applications on an aging platform. Fearing customer defection, these vendors have done their customers a disservice by not sharing their detailed product plans.

How can customers really know the status of their product, and what should they do with that information? Whether or not the vendor announces it, it is safe to assume that a product is dead or dying when the vendor stops selling and marketing it.Take this as a hint that senior staff associated with a product has moved on to new challenges.

What should a customer do with this knowledge? Start looking at alternatives and plan to migrate to a new performance management solution from the same vendor or another as soon as feasible. You don’t want to get stuck with a major bug when there is only a second-tier team in place to fix it. What if your company adopts a new technology (an operating system or spreadsheet version, for example) that the product doesn’t already support? It is unlikely the vendor will invest to upgradeto newer technologies if they are no longer selling it. At that point, you will be forced to make a hasty decision on a new product and perform a rushed implementation - not a situation you want to be in. So, carefully monitor your vendor’s product portfolio and make sure what you are using is still an active offering.

If your vendor turns out to be one of those that don’t share important information on sunsetting products with its customers, you almost certainly want to get your next solution from a different vendor. Find the solution that meets your current and anticipated future requirements, and start planning your move.

Do you have a story to share? I would like to hear it. Feel free to contact me.

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