My software is more intuitive than yours.

Some notes for those who are touting their software as intuitive/easy to use:

  1. It’s a relative concept. I was very excited in the mid 90’s to see how easy to use SAP R/3 was.  Compared to SAP R/2.
  2. Of course you think it’s intuitive. You wrote it.
  3. Things become intuitive once you’ve been trained to use them. I now find the Office 2007 ribbon intuitive, just as I find the location of Accelerator, Brake and Clutch pedals in my car intuitive. There was a time when I didn’t.

The only person who can convicingly claim that your software is intuitive or not is the person using it. As a developer it’s something I’ve often struggled with because what the end user finds intuitive can often be very different to what I think they’d find intuitive. Getting this right is half the battle (and half the fun).

On the limits of automation

From The Economist Special Report on the future of finance, Jan 24th:

Mr Rajan of the University of Chicago says academic research suggests mortgage originators, keen to automate their procedures, stopped giving potential borrowers lengthy interviews because they could not easily quantify the firmness of someone’s handshake or the fixity of their gaze. Such things turned out to be better predictors of default than credit scores or loan-to-value-ratios …

In other words –  if the devs found something difficult to deliver they descoped it. Pretended it didn’t exist. A viewpoint that is more common than you might think: to develop software you need certainties (if x occurs then do y).

Not that this viewpoint is limited to devs. In my work with buyers I’ve seen a marked reticence to even attempt to quantify the non-price elements of the bids they are being faced with, and certainly a reticence about weighing up the non-price elements of bids against the price (e.g. is a 3-year warranty worth an extra £x per unit).

It’s almost as if there is a tendency to ignore the subjective when what we should be doing is incorporating the subjective, but accepting it as such.

Auction Managers: Watchers and Drivers

How important is the auction manager to the success of your reverse auction?

At TradingPartners the auction manager is central to the whole process – from the supplier selection and training through to actively driving the negotiation during the reverse auction itself.

For example during a TradingPartners auction the auction manager can be seen communicating via instant messaging with bidders in order to encourage additional bidding. I have written before about how judicious use of instant messaging increases bidding activity and therefore savings.

My moles in other providers tell me that many other purveyors of auction systems seem to treat the auction itself as a technical activity that pretty much runs itself, barring any technical mishaps. The auction manager’s role is a more “up front” role to get bidders ready for the auction. On the day of the auction event the auction manager’s role is to watch the event rather than to drive it, and to respond to technical issues rather than to stimulate further competition.

When I have discussed the role of instant messaging with non-believers the usual riposte I get is something like: “Ok, you have shown how sending an instant message at 10 minutes into the auction got you an extra bid and more savings, but even without that instant message, you would have got that bid in the revese auction extensions.” It is impossible to prove one way or the other what ‘would have happened’ so it’s an impossible argument to refute. When it’s been my budget up for grabs I’ve been keen to take every possible opportunity to get the best possible result rather than leaving things to chance.

If you are planning reverse auctions as part of your sourcing strategies take the time to consider whether you expect your auction managers to be watchers or drivers, and understand what your vendor/provider’s approach is.