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4. Don’t specify new products too early

Caution: new products ahead

There's a certain amount of kudos in being 'at the leading edge'. Certainly, it's fun, especially if you have an engineering head on your shoulders, to try out the latest products. But, and this may come as something of a surprise from someone who makes his living selling networking products, ordering products before they are established in the market is not always a good idea. In fact, it can be a very bad idea indeed, and can cost your business dearly.

The leading edge is, of course, also known as the bleeding edge – and with good reason. Manufacturers almost always encounter unexpected design, production and logistical challenges with new product lines. In fact, over the past ten years, I can't remember a single network product that in its first release didn’t have some problem or other.

Recently, one of our customers specified the latest network switch from a particular manufacturer's range. Following a week of perfect, uninterrupted operation, the device spontaneously rebooted itself for no apparent reason. Brand new to the market, the switch had no field history: in specifying it the customer had taken a step into the unknown, with predictable results. Thankfully, they had the time and resources to handle the issue, but not all businesses would.

Resolved, but when?

Many bugs and issues with new products are of course resolved, although, when they first arise, no one knows how long such resolutions will remain in the pipeline. Worse yet, some are never resolved. Work arounds are almost always offered, but, again, no one can say how long devising them will take. In the meantime, who knows how many hours, days and weeks will have been lost?

In this respect, network switches, routers and other devices are like cars, washing machines, PCs and a host of other devices. Although a product's name, appearance and specifications may not change much over the years, a constant stream of improvements is made during its lifetime. Unless you ask, you don't generally hear about such improvements, but because of them the experience – and cost – of using the product some months after its launch can differ enormously from that of using it at Day One.

So here's my advice: unless you absolutely must, don't specify new products as soon as they are announced, or even released. Give them time to bed down in the market and for the inevitable teething problems to present themselves and be resolved.

Significant hidden costs

Of course, there may be compelling reasons for you to specify a brand new product – product features essential to your application and not available elsewhere, for example. If not, though, don't risk becoming a manufacturer's unpaid product tester, especially if you are pressed for time or have limited budgets, a small network team or a mission-critical network. Let your competitors discover the as-yet undiscovered bugs and handle the yet to be issued field notices – and bear the cost.

That cost, although often hidden, can be significant. In all aspects of business, time is one of the most valuable commodities you have at your disposal. And wasting it is one of the most expensive mistakes you can make. Just as jumping on the wrong bandwagon can cost you dear in terms of wasted time, so can specifying an unproven new product.