Benefits vs. features – Understanding the difference is important

By Clinton Jones on October 3, 2014

Benefits ConceptI often find I fall into the trap of not clearly distinguishing the very important difference between the benefits of something versus the features of that item.

The simple exercise of evaluating mobile telephone handsets, for example, requires one to consider what one really uses the phone for.

Some people are content with a mobile phone being useful for no more than making calls and sending and receiving texts, whereas others will tell you that the ability to listen to or stream music or check email or browse the internet is the more important feature.

The benefits easily get muddled with the features–but in reality the benefits with a mobile-phone are about convenience, mobility and access – in a nutshell, it is often about wanting more freedom.

When evaluating any consumer-based purchase, one is often approaching the purchase purely focused on features without a complete understanding of the benefits because it isn’t considered necessary to really spell out the benefits. The overall cost is perhaps relatively low, and this perhaps plays into the decision-making process too. Sometimes this is because we don’t fully understand what the benefits might be of a given purchase.

Several friends of mine have approached me in the past, for example, and asked my opinion on what kind of phone or laptop or even home computer they should buy. They do this because they know that I work with technology, even though they have no idea that little or none of it has anything to do with consumer grade technology.

Of course I try to help–but as with anything, making a suggestion based on limited information like an incomplete understanding of requirements is going to lead to a sub-optimal suggestion.

Deciding up front ‘what’ it is that you ‘need’ to be able to do is the start of making a sound decision but really understanding the ‘why’ is perhaps even more critical. For example:  I need a smartphone because I need to be able to be contactable in a variety of ways when I am on the move; it gives me freedom to travel and still be able to work.

I was reminded of this need to clarify the ‘why’ when I bundled some family members off on a long-haul flight and considered how they were traveling unencumbered with technology.

No mobile phone, no laptop, no computing device of any description.

It left me a little uneasy knowing that they were ‘untethered’.

It seems almost unbelievable in this day and age and in a First World country that anyone could be traveling any meaningful distance without a phone at least, even if it isn’t what we consider a ‘smart’ one.

Yet, the reality is that if they really needed to call someone like me, the only time that they will be able to do this is before they board their flight or after they arrive at the final destination.

The only reason that they would need to do this is if something unexpected comes up, like the flight is delayed for a really long time, a connecting flight is missed, they determine that they have forgotten to do or pack something, or they can’t be found at the destination by whoever picks them up. A public call box or a customer service phone would likely suffice in most cases and would likely be available in any case.

In truth then, they haven’t determined any good reason ‘why’ they really need to carry a mobile phone–and with the in-flight entertainment options that most long haul mainstream carriers have these, days, having a mobile computing device of any sort with connectivity of any sort has been determined as not really being necessary for the next few hours at least.

So in this case, the benefits, or lack of benefits of having nothing are pretty clear for them at least. For me the benefit would have been reassurance that they were contactable but that’s a benefit for me, not one that they are really that worried about.

The challenge of the implied benefit

When evaluating solutions for automation or manipulation of business data flows it is important then to really determine whether a given solution has real benefits and why we want or need to buy it–firstly because the cost is often higher and secondly because most business purchases have to have a defined value to the business otherwise the acquisition is effectively a waste of valuable resources that could be used for something with more clearly defined benefits.

Solutions that have long feature-lists are all very well–the ability to connect to spreadsheets, text, make ODBC connections, apply JavaScript etc is undoubtedly awesome as a feature-capability for some things, but what one should do is consider what the benefits could be for those who are funding the investment.

One benefit that may not be articulated but which is implied, is flexibility.

However, is implied flexibility a leap that everyone makes, and is it something that a decision maker can relate to when all they understand is a very specific problem that they want addressed?

Some kinds of benefits are easier to verify, measure and put a value to, than others but for most people, positive financial outcomes are readily accepted as the most understandable business benefits and they’re relatively easily measured.

Such outcomes include cost savings, cash inflows, and increased profit. An often overlooked one is time savings.

Time savings as a valuable benefit

If you consider Winshuttle technology business benefits we know from thousands of customers who participate in the ROI and Business Value Assessment programs that one of the big benefits derived through the use of Winshuttle software is valuable time savings. Many clocks in a vending machine to illustrate the importance and fleeting nature of time and the desire to buy more and make a moment last longer

Time savings in being able to keep data consistent between sources and targets in near real-time, time saved in avoiding manual transcription and time saved in minimizing data re-entry through hands on keyboards and all the potential errors that manual entry introduce – these time savings potentially represent significant value to not just individuals but the whole organization. First-time correct entry means avoiding waste through rework.

Time saved on avoiding manual tasks supports employees in being able to redirect their energies to higher-value tasks.

Another very real benefit of using Winshuttle software is the ability to minimize the dependency on technical resources to create automation scenarios.

Reducing the dependence on IT, for example, not only reduces the costs associated with developing solutions for data maintenance, it also alleviates some of the pressure typically brought to bear on IT by business users needing more agile approaches to the automation of business processes. In effect, providing self-service data automation makes business more agile.

Shifting the ability to securely and reliably create and run automations upstream to the requesting business units and users represents a significant time and cost saving to business and IT operations and also provides business operations with the flexibility of being able to accelerate the data automation implementation cycle.

Of course, data automation shouldn’t be applied to everything data-related–but if you can identify recurring instances when significant quantities of data need to be moved or maintained, then it is likely you will reap benefits either through time savings or minimizing the costs of IT custom development.

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About the author

Clinton Jones is a Director for Finance Solutions Management at Winshuttle where he has worked since 2009. He is internationally experienced having worked on finance technologies and business process with a particular focus on integrated business solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Clinton serves as a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance for finance organizations globally. Prior to Winshuttle he served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP and with Microsoft in their Global Foundation Services group.

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