The news here isn’t that the 'new king-makers', as Savio put it, look a lot like the old kingmakers: developers. The news is that management may finally be realizing it.
Developers, developers, [...] developers
- Steve Balmer
Most software platform companies at least partially get it these days - developers drive adoption and quality among technical groups. The software that has quality developers on its side will look better to both business and technical interest groups than the same software that is dragged down by developer indifference or animosity.
These points can be debated to a certain extent.
There are plenty of non-technical power-centers that drive adoption of software platforms in the enterprise. Preferred-vendor arrangements are common and historically were often negotiated at the CIO or higher level, with little developer involvement. Further, application vendors attempt (often with good success) to sell into business units rather than IT groups.
But in both cases developers still drive quality and adoption. Business units that buy applications directly often find themselves in need of connections to other systems or extensions to the application. This means developers are involved, either via an IT group, or as outside consultants.
Meanwhile, preferred-vendor agreements are constantly undermined and even when they are successful they may very well promote homogeneity and management ease at the expense of long-term quality in people and software. In order to make good software development and vendor management decisions, one must be well aware of the world beyond a single vendor bubble.
In order to bring developers on board with a vendor's offerings, to increase general awareness, and to drive sales, vendors need to get their software into the hands of developers. In the case of open source vendors, this is mostly an issue of getting the word out, as the software itself is only a download away. But in the case of more traditional enterprise vendors this can be a complicated proposition. Most enterprise vendors now provide downloads of some version of most of their platform software. Some vendors provide downloads of much of their application software as well.
Some example download sites:
- Oracle: http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/indexes/downloads/index.html
- IBM: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/downloads/evalmethod.html
- SAP: http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/downloads
These downloads are usually made under a fairly restrictive license and are usually not available for all parts of the application or platform software. Because of vendors' business model it is somewhat costly to provide these downloads because they appear in a format that is not the standard distribution format for the vendor's software. There are also legal costs associated with writing and maintaining the developer licenses that are applied to these downloads.
I believe that vendors have a tendency to see these sorts of downloads as an overhead cost. They are not. They are a key step in driving both sales and developer adoption, which are closely linked.
- Ability to prototype before purchasing is a key part of the software selection process for responsible companies.
- Today's developers will guide tomorrow's purchasing decisions.
- A healthy developer ecosystem is necessary condition for a strong third-party application ecosystem.
- A skilled, and preferably large, pool of developers is necessary for good project success rates.
In his article "The CIO is the last to know", Billy Marshall talks about the CIO of a financial services company who is surprised to find that his operations people are running Red Hat Linux. This CIO was handed a decision via bottom-up fiat. It is a story that is played out again and again in the enterprise space.
The point is not that CIOs aren't doing their jobs. It's that the decision is inevitably influenced from a different level: the level of those actually carrying out development and operations. Maybe these people aren't actually making the purchasing decisions, but they talk to the people who are. And if someone makes a purchasing decision that development and operations disagree with or are unable to execute, that person is going to hear it. And they'll probably feel it when their group's productivity falls off a cliff.
CIOs either are or should be listening to their developers' opinions. It would be wise for enterprise vendors to divert some sales attention into making sure that those developers have good opinions of their software.
The first step is getting that software into developers' hands quickly and with a minimum of developer effort.