Mature technology companies – even mature cloud companies (if that is not an oxymoron) – take pains to communicate certain things clearly to their customers. One of those things is the set of policies they use to update and deprecate their products. These policies essentially may entail descriptions of the syntax (e.g., version numbering), frequency, support implications, documentation and communications delivered when changes are made to those products. Although they are likely referenced as often or as thoroughly as software licensing agreements presented to consumers via smartphones (read: rarely), they do tend to be well thought through and presented to customers intelligently. A good example might be found here from Concur, the T&E management application used by many (full disclosure: Gartner is a Concur customer, and their web site was close at hand as a result; I’m sure there are numerous other good examples).
Sometimes, events occur that force even mature companies to take a stand, voluntarily communicate with customers and sometimes provide alternative solutions in spite of well laid out policies. A very recent example of this is the series of announcements in which: (1) QuickTime for Windows was found to have some major security holes (as noted in a Wall Street Journal article on 4/18); which (2) caused the US Department of Homeland Security to advise Windows users to remove it from their computers, a direct consequence of Apple signifying that it would no longer patch the product; which in turn resulted in (3) Adobe issuing a “warning” to is Creative Cloud customers – using Windows – that certain applications, like Premier Pro that are tightly coupled to QuickTime, would be at risk for security breaches if customers continued to use them as such. Unfortunately, the alternative for those users is nothing at this point, because Adobe hasn’t gotten around to decoupling QuickTime and recoupling a different/native player. Now, the fact that most Windows users have disliked Apple’s QuickTime implementation has little bearing here; the community of Windows users of Adobe Creative Cloud is left with a poor set of choices: keep using insecure software frowned upon by DHS, or stop using it and be unable to use key applications like Premier Pro. Adobe, in communications with those customers, promises to ameliorate the situation as soon as it can, though it provides no specific date or fix.
But this isn’t a story about Adobe, and arguably, one can sort of appreciate Adobe’s position and its state of unpreparedness (though given the overall disdain for QuickTime on Windows, one would have thought Adobe could have had a suitable plan in its hip pocket). Further, the community of Windows users of Creative Cloud is a minority (contrasted with Mac users), so Adobe likely feels that it can afford to be a bit mysterious. While that’s not great for users, it is the result of events not quite under Adobe’s control. But again, this blog isn’t about Adobe per se; its story has been included to illustrate just how clumsy Google (now a business unit under the collective name of Alphabet) has been with the end of life of Revolv, a product/company it acquired in October of 2014 subsequently to its acquisition of Nest. This blog is about communicating appropriately with customers, particularly if you’re a cloud or SaaS provider with customers counting on software they don’t control.
Recently, Nest end-of-life’d (not grammatically correct, but jargon correct) the Revolv hub. Now, those that had paid $299 for a Revolv hub might have known what was coming when, at the time of the acquisition, Nest announced that it would neither sell the device any longer nor continue development on it. Usually, if those things happen to any product, owners begin to look for the exits. However, the device, which has its controls in the cloud, continued to operate and be supported. Nest, however, is now entirely killing it off as of May 15, meaning that those for whom Revolv controls their home environments will be left with nothing. Nest communicated this – or didn’t – through a posting on its web site you had to stumble upon to see it. Arlo Gilbert, a tech writer (and Revolv customer), penned this angry and witty blog as a result. Though there are potentially interesting questions of whether warranties are still valid if a product/service is eliminated (as Nest/Google/Alphabet intends), the fact is that Nest/Google/Alphabet acquired Revolv for its people and not its product, it is killing the product and angry customers – who may or may not number in the tens of thousands, Nest is not saying – are left in the dark (bad pun).
The bigger implications are what users of cloud-based products are left to think. If the cloud retains my profiles, my controls and various other forms of information, instruction or integration, what happens if the cloud blows away? Even if Nest intends (as it claims) to ultimately replace the Revolv hub with Nest, Works with Nest and related technology, where does that leave current customers, and how can customers trust Nest going forward (btw, I searched high and low on the Nest site and could find nothing about updates, versioning, deprecation policy, etc.). This might not be as interesting if we have not heard similar stories about Google with respect to enterprise software it provides. Analysts that follow Google enterprise products note instances of new versions and changes introduced without warning, a happenstance that can be destabilizing to customers. Nest/Google/Alphabet and companies like them that offer technology products to the masses need to communicate effectively with those customers throughout their products’ lifecycles. It’s not good enough to offer licensing information in a 10-page EULA; information about versions, APIs, feature introduction and changes thereto should be readily available to customers. This problem only becomes exacerbated as more organizations infuse their products with technology (i.e., software/firmware). Cars, watches, insulin pumps, cameras, cameras, houses, lights – manufacturers of these products need to consider both the technical naiveté of their mass audiences and the trust those audiences put into the ongoing function of those products. Revolv may not have had a lot of customers, but those customers are passionate, and they are computer literate (assumedly); imagine if your refrigerator or car suddenly stopped working because your manufacturer decided not to make updates past a certain date. Twitter will be overrun with negative comments, brands would be harmed and customers would leave. So my advice, erstwhile tech providers and non-tech companies offering tech-infused products, is to communicate product lifecycle policies, provide frequent updates and information, and in so doing, enhance the relationships with your customers.
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