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May 19, 2009

Why Wolfram Alpha is not going to change the world

During the great ERP boom of the 1990's and early 21st century, every consultant involved in the game realized that if you are competing on a tender on issues related to detail functionality you have already lost. (Even if you win)

If you find yourself in this situation you have already failed to impress them with the value you and your company can bring. In fact, they see you as such a commodity that they have reduced the decision to mouse-clicks, screens and reports.

A shocking state of affairs.... and when this happens if you win, then you lose.

Any variations have to be hard fought over, any bids for additional consultancy is likely to fail and when the project finishes it is very likely that your engagement will finish also.

I say this because I am watching the furore on the web over the new Wolfram Alpha search engine. Today I have read everything from Google Killer, through to "Not ready for beta" through to wide ranging intellectual debates about whether search is broken or not.

They missed the point... and the point is - if it is all about functionality then you have already lost!

Facebook is far more functional than LinkedIn, yet my purposes are better served on LinkedIn. it is way more functional than Twitter also - yet I am a dedicated Tweeter. (I deleted my Facebook profile)

Siebel was more functional than in the early days. I don't know how they compare now and I don't care either. I'm staying with

If it is all about functionality then it is an argument about diminishing returns, marginal differences and small variations. And often this is not nearly enough to win a client, cause a revolution, or shift opinions.

FriendFeed is far more functional than Twitter, but they will gain the center stage, Wolfram Alpha may be better at answering questions than Google but they also will never take the center stage.

If people are going to change then it needs to be for a greater cause than the trouble it would cause. I am sure that there are more functional B2B networking platforms out there than LinkedIn, but everyone is already on LinkedIn - so it doesn't matter.

SAP used to have a very proud claim that they never showed product during the sales process. Why? Because "nobody ever got sacked for buying SAP". Right?

It was the CFO's tool of choice, every board knew it was the wise choice to make, and if you do a Google search on SAP jobs all you see is companies looking for people, if you did it with one of their competitors the results were filled with people looking for work.

SAP's brand sold the product. The value that their prospects perceived they were able to deliver.

If your negotiations are stuck on functionality or (say) the comparable skills of employees, instead of the value that engaging your company will surely bring - then you have already lost.

Contracts aren't won on functionality... even if you do win!