A colleague, Ray Wang, has loads of fascinating statistics in his recent data overview, "The State Of Enterprise Software Adoption: 2007 To 2008." A staggering number of companies have developed and maintain custom applications.
Ray’s piece is written for the market researcher, but like all good research, it has much broader implications. Perhaps you won’t be surprised when I say, "Including product managers!"
The statistic says that a lot of demand exists that technology vendors are not meeting. Custom development is a last resort–and I should know, since I’ve done it myself.
Twice in my career, I’ve pushed to create custom requirements management (RM) applications. In the last case, I wrote it myself in PHP and MySQL. (Never fear, it’s a laughably rudimentary application, functionality-wise, so the friend and colleague who inherited it wasn’t left with an unmaintainable mess.)
Today, there are more RM applications someone in my position might consider. (Or not, which is the topic of some upcoming research.) Then, I just had the technological blank slate, since there weren’t packaged applications designed for product managers in the technology industry (TI). RM was such a missing piece that most people didn’t understand, at first glance, what a requirements management system was. A common question: "Are you building your own CRM system." Er, no.
Collecting and synthesizing requirements is not the only task that doesn’t have a corresponding application to support it. In some cases, the market as a whole isn’t providing the sort of tools people really want. (Workflow is a prime example–but that’s a topic for another day.)
In other words, technology companies don’t always have to invent new technologies to create new markets. That’s an important lesson for anyone involved in product strategy to take seriously.