Client vs Customer: How well is your community being served?

A good client-consultant relationship can be very valuable to a community in need of expert advice and project-specific or specialized services. But when it comes to software solutions, communities need to consider how well this kind of arrangement serves their interests.

As software clients, communities often have to pay up-front fees to purchase or license software, as well as to have it customized and set up for them, and even to have it populated with their data and information. Communities may find they never even use their new software themselves, and instead pay the consultant’s staff to operate it for them whenever they wish to query, upload or otherwise use their own data.

If there’s an upside to this arrangement, I guess it’s that communities save on training fees because no one local ever learns to use the software. Of course, the obvious downside is there’s no investment in capacity-building because, well, no one local ever learns to use the software.

Money that might otherwise be used to develop local skills and employment leaves the community instead, to pay for the privilege of gaining access to members’ own information. Since budgets often run on boom and bust cycles, software clients may also wind up periodically unable to use the program they’ve paid for, or the data they have saved in it.

Bottom line: the more a software client has to rely on consultants to access and control their information, the less well the investment in that software serves the community.

Communities that purchase software they can use themselves, on the other hand, are software customers, with all of the independence and control that implies. But there are different types of customer relationships with different benefits and costs.

Software can still be purchased the old fashioned way, as a product; think Adobe Suite, Microsoft Office, or many brand name GIS programs. In this case, communities buy a license for or a limited number of installations of a program.

These types of software are often powerful and complex systems that may be well worth the money. But you might also have to pay for training, sometimes even on an ongoing basis, in order to put them to effective use. When updates and new versions become available, and even necessary to fix bugs and maintain security, you generally have to purchase them too, often along with upgraded training.

Communities that only occasionally require the outputs these programs deliver may quickly find it is easier and cheaper to simply contract trained professionals as required. In other words, to become clients of a consultant who can meet a specialized or project-specific software need.

Today software can also be purchased as a service. In this model — software-as-a-service, or SaaS, as it’s called — customers pay a monthly fee to use software online for as long as they need it. This has become a simple, cost-effective way for communities to acquire software, such as Trailmark, and to start using it immediately.

In the case of Trailmark, this means communities don’t have to lay out a whole bunch of cash up front in order to start using the system. You just signup and pay as you go. It also means that updates and new versions are provided as part of the service, at no additional cost.

Plus, as any service you’re paying for should, Trailmark exists to serve your needs. It is designed to be used by local staff and members in order to ensure that your community has control, access and a true sense of ownership over all of the data and information you use Trailmark to store and maintain.

So, if your goal is to improve your community’s use and control of its own data, you might want to consider becoming a customer, rather than somebody else’s client.

Signup for your free Trailmark account today.

Or drop us a line at info@trailmarksys.com – we’d love to answer any questions you have, or setup a free online demo.

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