As top investment banks have discovered, giving away software tools to key customers and suppliers can save both of you lots of time and money.
Frustrated by schedule slips and confused questions, a developer at one of the world's largest telecomms companies did something he really wasn't supposed to do: He gave away his code to a key circuit chip supplier. His motivation wasn't generosity; it was self-interest. His company's supplier consistently had to run through two or three complex iterations to meet the software's evolving specifications. That prompted persistent delays in release dates, sometimes by weeks, and threatened other software development and manufacturing schedules. To accelerate the process, the developer had written a little personal tool that tested critical functionality of the supplier's embedded software. It worked.
In a blinding epiphany of the obvious, the developer realized everyone would benefit if he just gave away the code. So he spent 20 minutes writing documentation and another few minutes slapping on an interface he thought the supplier would find easy to use. It did. His under-a-hundred-lines software giveaway probably saved both companies well over $500,000 in time and testing. Not only did the supplier's development team gobble up his code, they came back with ideas to make their module better. That previously personal tool had given the developer's company keener insight into its customer's software design sensibility. It produced better software faster based on that simple freeware "gift".
That's the kind of gift that more CIOs should insist their IT organizations give. After all, they have an untapped and underutilized asset that has strategic implications for customer and supplier relationships. The odds are excellent that their IT organizations are filled with portfolios of personal tools that, with just a bit of thought and polish, could be externalized to save time, effort, and resources for key customers and suppliers.
Digital designers, developers, programmers and testers create these kinds of informal toolkits all the time. The catch is that they're almost always too personal; they're built for the express use of the individual and no one else. But, unsurprisingly, the potential value of these personal innovations can go far beyond the individual.
Most of the time, people have no interest in how you solve a particular IT problem. But for those aspects of a problem (or opportunity) that they might like some control or influence over, they're very interested in whatever insights and shortcuts you might have to offer. If it's in code they're confident already works, so much the better.
These tools have particular credibility and authenticity because your people are already using them to make their lives easier. All it takes is a smidgen of ingenuity and investment to turn the tools into platforms that make the business lives of your customers and suppliers easier. Cost-effectively leveraging an existing investment is smart business.
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