Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 04/85 item 01 - scanned

AVOIDING THE TECHNOFREAKS (column)

You know the sort of people. They look at a new machine and make an absolute judgement on it. A judgement that will not change over time, except perhaps when the manufacturer goes bust. "Ah. But it's still a great machine. " Their judgement is based on the technical specification. "It's got a 68000 processor, therefore it's better than the 8086 or Z80." Never mind the fact that there's no software to run on the thing or service and support organisation to look after the customer when things go wrong.

This industry seems to be heavily populated with technofreaks, the people to whom the arcane is more important than the practical, to whom potential is more important than achievement.

Sadly, many of these people are in positions of considerable influence in the media perhaps or acting as advisors to people who know even less. Their view of the world is bounded by the technology, and I think it's time their cover was blown.

If I were a businessman looking for advice on what machine to buy, the last person I would go to would be someone who understood, in detail, the differences between an 8088 processor and an 8086. What does the consumer care? You only need a slower disk drive with the more powerful chip and where's it got you? No, give me someone who can discuss Spellbinder versus WordStar and perhaps show how they run on a couple of different machines and I'll come out of the encounter far more likely to buy. Show me someone who can intelligently discuss my needs and get me to examine my requirements before launching into a sale and you've found the person who will secure the business.

Fortunately, the more professional systems houses and dealers are well aware of this and, for them, the days of blinding customers with science are numbered. A genuine concern for the customer's needs will probably satisfy both parties and guarantee them a long term mutually profitable relationship. The customer, because he will have a system which genuinely matches his needs. The dealer, because he will secure relatively trouble free business and build a reputation for his company.

Reading the dismal tales of bankruptcies, I am struck by the high proportion of companies who set out to do technically exciting things. I know many of the founders of these companies personally and, with few exceptions, their focus has been more on the technology than on the customer's needs, marketing methods or need for sound business management. The fact is that when everything was going well these people could survive. We were all ignorant, certainly in the late seventies, and a technical spec was as good a basis for purchase as anything else.

Obviously, every high technology company needs its technical experts, but it also needs management capable of running the business side of things. A lot of whizzo technicians started to walk on water and decided they could do anything including running companies. One of the problems is that they are too close to the details to see the changes as they occur in the marketplace. A technical improvement is the first thing that occurs to them when sales start to flag. Does this story have a familiar ring? A lot, and I mean a lot, of computer companies are going to go out of business this year. The difficulty is that many people won't know until it's too late whether they're in trouble. I suspect that any company which finds itself more inward than outward looking, more technically than consumer orientated, is almost certainly heading for trouble.

Returning to the media for a second, I have read some really daft and frequently destructive, editorials recently.

Admittedly none of them were in the top ranking magazines but, despite this, many people who read them still take them seriously. The printed word has enormous power over most people and such editorial writers should question whether, if they're technofreaks, they should be writing such editorials at all.

Technically proficient people are needed in all parts of this industry. The successful businesses, media or computing, will be those that recognise that technical excellence alone is only part of the story.