Business & Leadership Behaviors

The Difference between an Application and a Solution

I’ve lived in a software application and technology world my entire work career – and it has been a history of learning.  When I first got started with Texas Instruments Computer Systems Division in 1979, everyone talked about how “computers are the future”! Today, as the owner of a software application company it’s all about “show me how it works”.

The evolution of selling computer hardware, to application software, to peripheral hardware, to system integrator, and now as a software manufacturer, has been an interesting ride.  The real difference today is that we really don’t sell a product – we focus on the solution.

For almost any product, there are a number of similar ones on the market. Just ask Google.  Each and every one of them is remarkable – or at least that is what they say on their website.  Most also have a long list of recognizable customers listed.  But getting to the specific person in (insert name of well-known company here) that knows the supplier of that particular product is another story…

So if you’re like most people – you do the majority of your research online before you contact a vendor regarding their solution.  Now pair that with the variety of options of any given product and their wide range of impressive customers listed and where do you begin?

The challenge in today’s software market is that you’re not just buying a product, but actually looking to solve a specific problem.  You’re not really looking for the drill bit – but really need the hole – as the saying goes.  So if that’s the case, why do we begin the research for an “asset inventory application” versus “quick, trustworthy data” for an asset inventory activity? 

Because that’s not how our brains work.  When presented with an issue, as humans (I think), we immediately go into Problem Solving mode.  At least I do.  I identify what I’m pretty sure I need to solve the problem and then I focus on that tool – and shifted my focus away from the end solution. 

It’s been my experience (both professionally and personally) that the overall experience of how a problem is solved is much more critical than the actual features of the tool or application that was used to solve it.  Don’t get me wrong – the tool needs to do the job – but it’s everything around that tool that can make or break the solution.

That is why as a software manufacturer, we need to concentrate even more on the “extended deliverables” for a client’s solution than the base application code.  When I talk about extended deliverables, I mean:

  • The Project Plan – an outline of all of the steps for the implementation, customer transition, and longer-term support for the solution by activity and resource
  • A Structured Study or Configuration Effort – a logical step-by-step approach to customizing the software deliverable to best fit the customer’s existing environment and future goals
  • Automated Install –  scripts on installing as many of the software components as possible easily minimizing resource needs, time, and most importantly – errors
  • Comprehensive Training – current and relevant training for users and administrators with data / hands-on components for initial deployment and a procedure with new employees
  • Documentation– a complete set of technical, user, and support documents for internal reference and ownership of the application
  • Project Management – the cornerstone of all successful software projects is communication, process ownership, and management

As a software manufacturer, we have a never-ending effort to ensure we have a solution and not just another software application.  We pride ourselves on our deliverables that complement our solution focus for mobilePLUS customers.  It can be challenging – and definitely an investment of time and resources.  But the reward is the high level of customer satisfaction and loyalty this delivers to us – immediately and in the long term.

 My challenge is for all of you that the next time you are looking for a solution, please look beyond the software functionality and what the solution experience will be from start to finish.  I also suggest that you have the software company tell you their story – directly, with actual examples – on how their delivery system will address your needs both short and long term. 

Choosing a vendor (and an application) is about forming a relationship – ideally for the long term – that will get you to the solution that you seek. Ideally, whoever you choose can easily demonstrate that to you from day one.

 After all – the goal is the solution to your problem – not the application that they sell.


Wes Haubein is the President of HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile asset inventory management and RFID solutions.  He writes regularly about management, solution integration, and technology.