Once in awhile, one software vendor or another will contact me about letting me try their software. I seldom take them up on it. Whether it’s released software or a beta (pre-release) version, I have found it less useful to try to look at these products.
Likewise, at conference,s while I might walk through the booths and ask what’s new with the software vendors, it’s become rare for me to stick around for a demo. In many cases, I’ve seen the demos, before, but I also have come to realize it’s not as useful as I once thought it might be, I’ve come to realize that, after awhile, I don’t remember what I saw in which system,. And, after even the shortest of periods of time, I’ve forgotten everything I’ve seen. In addition to that, software changes so quickly that you almost have to check when you’re interested in a piece of software to see what its latest features are. Some people think that, if you’re going to work with customers on product selections, that you should see all the demos, but I claim you won’t remember enough details from that by the time you go to select the software and that conference demos in your past doesn’t help you determine how, today, the software would meet the customer’s requirements.
Unless I have some good reason to remember, that is.
This statement brings me to talk about three particular pieces of software and my interest in working with their tests, plus some issues with it all:
- While all my LabWare LIMS customers are now converted to Version 6, I can remember when version 5 was just about to be released. I was extremely fortunate not only to be working with a customer that was participating in the pre-release of that software, but also a customer who was literally using every standard feature of the system, plus many add-on modules. Not only did I gain version 5 experience before most other consultants did, but I learned about all the new features and how to use and program them, as well. The major downside to having a customer act as a beta test site, though, is that you do run across quite a lot of issues that must be corrected before actually going live on the software. Depending on the issue, that can be a large problem for the project schedule. On the other hand, for the consultant, learning the new version is spread-out and you have plenty of time to learn little bits of changes to the system as you go along so that it doesn’t seem to be any real effort.
- Recently, I’d participated in Thermo’s SampleManager 11 Beta test. Once, again, it’s always fortunate to be able to be involved in these tests to both learn what things are probably going to be released and to have that knowledge ready and the skills to work with it ahead of those who weren’t involved. A positive to this is that it doesn’t involve a project schedule that might or might not be satisfied with the delivery of particular portions of functionality on a specific schedule. The downside to this is that you get a fairly short amount of time to do it (in comparison with having an entire project schedule to do some of it in). Also, you’re likely working on it along with whatever project work you’re doing. Imagine all the features that come out in a major release, cramming them into a list of things to try to test in your (relatively) spare time, and I think you can imagine it’s not as easy to get through the bulk of the list of new items as it is in my previous example.
- Marc Girardbille’s SCT (Software Comparison Tool) was available for anyone to download and test for free. It’s a great tool and, if it hadn’t come out at the same time I’d become involved with the SM 11 Beta test, I would absolutely have volunteered to run through it. This is a tool that I’ve used, find useful, and just think is handy to have around. I’d be excited to see new features and to give feedback on it if things had been different with my schedule. You can still participate in Marc’s testing effort with this link: http://sct.comuv.com/
In the end, for me, it makes sense to work with software that I’m using and going to use. With the software that I sell my services on, it definitely is a benefit to be able to hit the ground running when a version is released, by being able to immediately walk into a customer site and start using the new features. With the LabWare LIMS 5 Beta test, learning all those features ahead of everyone else not only helped drive much of much business for the V5 release, but gave my business the momentum to keep getting customers through the V6 release. Whether that will be the same situation with the SM 11 beta test or not will be something to watch going forward into its release. Also, participating in these beta tests helps not just the consultant, but helps the vendor look for things they’ve missed, as no-one can think of or perform every test possible.
And, as for SCT, it’s a tool that I’ve found useful and have an interest in. Plus, because it was developed by an individual for his own purposes, I think it’s up the rest of us who need great tools like this to support efforts like his by doing some testing and feedback in exchange for the free tool.