As a software development company, we think very hard about our product – what it does, what it looks like, what it’s like to use. Like painting the Forth Road Bridge, it’s a never ending task. We have a product roadmap which we review and revise. There are always new features that can be added, new reporting functionality to be created, new interfaces to be developed, and even the occasional bug to be fixed. Yet this can be a very introspective process and therein lies the danger. Developing a product in isolation from users is crazy and it does not generate sales either!
We think our InSite software looks pretty good, works pretty well and is intuitive to use. We also think we know what our target market is looking for from a solution to data centre energy and environmental monitoring. But complacency is always lurking down that path. We are not customers and that is a crucial, if obvious, point. Crucial because it is only by listening to and understanding the needs of real customers that we can solve real customer problems. In a competitive market the reason the customer chooses your product over someone else’s, aside from relationships and services and so forth, might not be for the reason you think your product is the best.
Our approach to customer engagement is to focus on problem solving, understanding what the customer is trying to achieve and then showing how InSite can help them get there. Not exactly rocket science but vital nonetheless. This does not mean we are a consultancy developing bespoke software – we are a product business. We know the direction we want to take InSite in but we ensure that direction is strongly informed by real customer needs. We listen to the outcomes and outputs that they require, developing the necessary features and functions that will deliver those with added value. Whilst each customer situation is unique, of course there are themes that have widespread applicability. In our case, I can summarise them as:
For example, “I need to know in real-time the energy consumption in kWh per rack so that I can bill my customers for what they use”. Or “I need to know the real-time PUE of my data centres so I can monitor trends over time and see the effect of any adjustments I make”. Or “I need to monitor the environment of my PoPs to ensure I meet SLA requirements”. And so on. Behind these requirements are the actual sites and equipment and users that InSite needs to interact with. The vast majority of sites we see are not homogeneous but multi-vendor with 3-phase meters from one vendor, racks PDU strips from several others, temperature sensors from another, and so on and so forth. Not only that but the equipment may use different protocols to communicate – SNMP, ModBUS-over-TCP, etc. Or it might only be able to make its data available as a CSV file to be polled at a regular interval, or through an SQL database. So we develop InSite to be as flexible as possible in its ability to monitor devices, gather data from the widest range of sources, process that data and present the user with actionable management information in the form of automated alerts, interactive dashboards and real-time reporting.
InSite is designed so that the look and feel of it can be customised, down to the web interface colour scheme and incorporation of your logo. That is important to some customers, perhaps those who incorporate InSite in their customer portal and want to present a familiar front to users. We discovered this need during early trials so we built the solution in. It was not an obvious feature to include in the product but is an important one for a business solution. So, yes, if you really want it in red you can have that, too!