There are a lot of things that are true about businesses, but probably the truest is that businesses love to use things that aren't considered fully ready for use.
For example, companies love to hire people who admit that they can't do their jobs effectively. And they also love to locate their offices in buildings that are not yet completely built. And most of all, businesses love run their vital business processes on products that haven't been officially released and are still considered incomplete.
OK, I know what some of you are thinking. Are you nuts, Jim? Companies don't want to hire people who aren't able to do their jobs. And no company would take the risk of moving into a building that isn't ready for occupation.
All right, I'll give you those two. But I've been seeing more and more companies willing to use products that are officially marked as not ready, and more and more vendors willing to sell them these unready products.
What are these incomplete products? They are, of course, beta versions of applications and products.
Sure, betas have been around forever. And there have always been companies willing to use them. But, typically, companies use betas in a limited mode, mainly for testing. Betas are also often used by companies that have been tapped by the vendor to be a showcase for the upcoming product. In these cases, the vendor is supporting and paying for much of the implementation of the product.
But there's a weird phenomenon I've been seeing more of lately, which involves companies not only using betas for vital company processes, but actually paying for these betas as if they were fully shipping products.
Like a lot of new trends, this one appears to have started with Google. Many of the most popular Google services and applications get lots of use while they are in beta form (and they often stay that way for over a year).
But it's one thing to use a beta product for free personal e-mail or scheduling and quite a different thing to use (and pay for) a beta version for a vital business use.
The most common area where this occurs is in on-demand or hosted services. When one looks at a hosted service, there really is no definition of when a product is finished. On-demand applications are constantly being updated and new revisions are rolled out to customers, often on a monthly basis. Because the products are always changing, I can understand why these vendors might not get too hung up on things like official releases or new version announcements.
But beta means something very specific to corporate IT. It means not officially ready for real use.
When I recently spoke to an on-demand vendor that was selling a product that was listed as a beta version, representatives argued that the product was fully supported and they believed it was stable. I replied, "Then stop calling it beta."
Imagine this scenario: I purchase a new product to run a key process for my company. A flaw occurs and data is lost. As a result, time and money are lost recovering from the flaw. How much more trouble do you think I'd be in with my bosses if I had to tell them that the problem was caused by the BETA product that I had purchased?
If the product is ready for use, than say so. And leave the beta term where it belongs, for the unfinished products.