To be useful, new technology needs to meet three standards. It must be powerful, simple and cost-effective.
While fanaticism in defense of simplicity is an admirable virtue, every product’s longterm staying power is defined by its unique intersection of power and simplicity and cost-effectiveness, the three legs on which every value stool stands.
First-time purchasers often focus solely on purchase price as a proxy for cost. For consumables, this is generally good enough. Even the most intensely driven cost accountant rarely adds the price of incidentals such as bread, crackers, or celery to the price of a jar of peanut butter in order to determine its total cost over the jar’s useful life. The answer is not helpful, it adds little to the decision.
For durable goods, though, a longer perspective is at least useful and often essential. Given two automobiles of equal price, most consumers will delve further to look at other items that might drive their “lifecycle costs”, the total expense an owner can anticipate over five years of ownership. Perhaps one car gets 12mpg and the other 30mpg, or one has a 12 month warranty while the other offers 60 months of paid maintenance with the purchase price. In some cases — helicopters and Bentleys come to mind — the periodic costs can significantly exceed the purchase price. A razor is a more prosaic example, where nearly its entire lifecycle costs are purchases of the blades rather than the price of the handle.
So too with software. Too often, new software requires all kinds of additional costs whose only description is in the fine print or after-sale literature. How often are we faced with operating system updates that require upgrades of memory or storage hardware? Or programs that need the newest chips or connections to run as touted? Perhaps the most egregious examples are the products that are so complicated to install that they suggest purchasers call in professionals to get them up and running or are so complex to operate as to support legions of consultants making a living maintaining them.
In TheFormTool’s own little part of the universe, document assembly and automation, we’ve noticed a pattern: the most complex products are also the most expensive in terms of both purchase price and lifecycle costs. In fact, it’s not unusual to see some legacy software offerings run up lifecycle costs that are 20- to 30-times as great as those experienced by owners of TheFormTool. The greatest loss, though, is the time and convenience sacrificed when a tool becomes too complex for its operator to manage, when a user has to wait for support for every glitch, or change, or modification. Those are costs that are hard to measure but too large to ignore.