Sunday, November 2 2008, 22:33
When the product life begins...
It is usual for companies investing massively in research and development to have a strict product information disclosure policy. For months, engineers work in a relative secret, without being able to tell anyone what they do… until the D-day arrives, when the product is officially announced, when the product life begins in the outside world…
Although this can be quite frustrating for end users (and engineers too by the way), especially for heavily monitored companies and products (at random, Microsoft, Apple or Google), there are many good reasons for a company not to give too much information on its upcoming products. Among the most important of these, we find:
- Not giving strategic information to the competitors. Usually, competition is fierce enough with all the open information available (on the web for example) and you do not want to give too much time to your opponents to prepare a strong counter-attack to your own product.
- Not cannibalizing your sales of a previous version of the product by announcing the new one too early. After all, between an old deprecated version that is available now, and a brand new improved version that will be available in two months at the same price, what do you choose?
- Not being committed to release some features of the product. Although “shit happens” and can be due to external circumstances, it is always bad for the company reputation to cancel features. If the feature was not officially announced, it is not “cancelling features", but “denying false rumors”, which is much less damageable.
Of course, there are also products that are announced early in the development cycle. This can be for marketing reasons (namely creating the buzz), or sometimes for more pragmatic reasons. Let’s take the case of Windows 7, which was announced officially months ago, with the first bits disclosed last week at PDC, although the release is planned for about a year from now. It is a secret for nobody that Microsoft works on the next versions of its flagship products (Windows, Office, etc) even before the previous versions are released to the market. Moreover, there are many external stakeholders for Windows (think about all the hardware manufacturers for instance) and Microsoft has also to engage early with customers in order to collect precious feedback. Therefore, the company itself has not much interest in keeping the product secret... which does not mean that the information flow is not controlled at all, as Steven Sinofsky, vice-president of the Windows division, said in a recent interview with BusinessWeek.
A bit less under the lights of the projectors but closer to me, our Zurich Development Center was blessed recently by the disclosure of the products we are working on, an attendant console and a response group service for Office Communications Server 2007 R2, the latest version of the Unified Communications solution of Microsoft to be released next February. To give you an idea of how fast the buzz spread on the web, a quick Google search on the product name returns about 2 million pages, against a few hundred before the announcement. And funnily enough, the first result is still a blog article stating rumors on OCS 2007 R2, the press release being only the third result.
Office Communications Server 2007 R2 on Google
Although the product development began months ago, I tend to consider that the product life began only when it was officially announced, as this is the first opportunity for customers to consider buying the product, which is after all the ultimate goal of making products. And for the engineers working on the product, this is the concretization of lots of efforts... but also the beginning of a final straight in order to make the product as good as it was announced!