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Research Article

New Software Product Feature Identification: An Analysis of E-mail User Characteristics and Functional Requirements

Ecehan Sofuoglu, Nuri Basoglu and Tugrul Daim
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Improving the product development process is becoming more important as business environment gets more competitive. This study aims at understanding and characterizing potential users of a software product through idea sharing of users. It also targets to create a new product concept through understanding the common features users prefer most. During this product conceptualization stage, the customer ideas are captured through use of a questionnaire. The target users, priority of product functions and features are investigated and the details of the existing e-mail systems as well as of the ideal e-mail systems are identified. Some of the key results included users with demographic differences having different usage and requirements characteristics, expectations of females being higher than those of males and the software functions used and characteristics required being different for those with different job categories or educational backgrounds.

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Ecehan Sofuoglu, Nuri Basoglu and Tugrul Daim, 2007. New Software Product Feature Identification: An Analysis of E-mail User Characteristics and Functional Requirements. Journal of Applied Sciences, 7: 59-65.

DOI: 10.3923/jas.2007.59.65



New product development processes have been gaining more and more importance because the profitability and the success of the firms are determined by the new product performance. New product development and introduction are activities of vital importance to the growth and performance of firms.

This paper presents a component of a research program in product development (Basoglu et al., 2006). The program is composed of related research projects. Figure 1 introduces the high level components of the framework studied. The study utilizes several case studies from the IT software industry to identify the relationships of the framework (Sofuoglu and Basoglu, 2005, 2006; Kerimoglu and Basoglu, 2005, 2006; Tanoglu and Basoglu, 2005, 2006; Ozen and Basoglu, 2006).

Despite considerable research into factors leading to successful new product activity (Henard and Szymanski, 2001; Montoya-Weiss and Calantone, 1994) as well as the consequences of such activity, very few studies have examined how business strategy influences the degree to which new product development and introduction is undertaken within the firm. Some research suggests that the degree to which a firm is involved in new product activity depends on the extent and nature of its market orientation (Athuene-Gima, 1996; Han et al., 1998; Narver et al., 2000).

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Fig. 1: Product development framework

Generally, two behavioral components of market orientation are considered: customer and competitor orientation (Frambach et al., 2003).

On the other hand, some studies report that beyond the relationship marketing, which states the interaction with the customers or competitors, innovation is another important topic (Gruner and Homburg 2000). With this point of view, apart from understanding the desires and characteristics of the customers, their innovativeness also gains importance. Literature in marketing suggests that a key success factor of new product introduction is identification and influence of those people who are the first to buy-in any given product market, i.e., innovators and early adopters in the well-known diffusion framework that categorizes individuals into five groups: innovators; early adopters; early majority; late majority and laggards (Flynn and Goldsmith, 1993). As Rogers (1962, 1983) suggests, there are different types of adopters of the products and they have to be identified in order to determine the target segments. There are early adopters and late adopters who display different preference patterns for a product’s features. Innovators and early adopters may prefer different new product profiles. In the context of new product diffusion, the possible emergence of differences between adopter groups in terms of preferences for given product features has been suggested in earlier studies (Cestre and Darmon, 1998). As a result, before developing a product, the adopter type should be understood and identified first.

These kinds of new product development strategies have been applied in so many different kinds of industries for many years. However Information Systems (IS), which is a new and fast developing area, is one of the industries that really need new methods to increase the success rate of its new products. Since IS implementation is costly and has a relatively low success rate, IS research has to contribute to a better understanding of this process and its outcomes. There is a growing body of academic research examining the determinants of information technology acceptance and utilization among users (Chau and Hu, 2002; Taylor and Todd, 1995). The researchers firstly concentrated on identification of factors that facilitated IS use. These efforts produced a long list of items that proved to be of little practical value. It became obvious that, for practical reasons, the factors had to be grouped into a model in a way that would facilitate analysis of IS use (Legris et al., 2001). Davis (1986) suggested the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) which examines the mediating role of perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness in their relation between system characteristics (external variables) and the probability of system use (an indicator of system success).

TAM is in fact a specific adaptation of the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA). The TRA and its successor, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (Ajzen, 1985) are well known and have been widely employed in the study of specific behaviors (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980).

The growth of e-mail use: According Levitt’s (2000) research results, IDC reported that in the year 2000 there were 452 million e-mail mailboxes and approximately 9.7 billion messages exchanged on an average day. For 2005, the numbers were predicted to jump to 983 million mailboxes and 35 billion messages.

Situations which were easy to handle in face-to-face meetings or over the telephone before have become more complex as they have to be managed by geographically distributed teams (Hinds and Bailey, 2003). Winger (2005) appreciate the inevitable existence of face-to-face communication, however he does not ignore the possibility of significant shift toward digital communication. Thus, the new dynamic nature of the global markets requires business communications to be more flexible and more collaborative in nature. Therefore, business e-mail communication needs to grow more dependent upon features such as flexibility, informality and efficiency. In order to satisfy the customers’ requirements, the functionality of e-mail systems should be augmented. As the functionalities increase and become more complex, the need for an optimum e-mail system also grows (Gimenez, 2006).


This study uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to be able to assess as many aspects of customer requirements as possible.

Instrument development and pretest: Before finalizing the questionnaire, earlier versions were tested through several pilots. The first pilot questionnaire was based on the initial literature search. The first pilot resulted with data from 42 respondents. A focus study was held in order to clarify the initial responses as well as to improve the understanding of the users’ perceptions of e-mail systems. Fifteen people were invited to the focus study and eleven of them responded and participated. There were two groups in the focus study; the first group was composed of five research assistants of a university in the Department of Information Systems. The second group was composed of six professionals working in the private sector. They were mostly from the Information Systems departments of the companies.

A list of characteristics and functions of e-mail systems that were gathered through the literature search was also sent to the respondents. Respondents were required to express their opinions about the list of the functions and they were encouraged to create their own functions. Both of the focus studies were recorded.

Using the results of the first pilot, a second pilot questionnaire was prepared and tested by the focus study respondents. Later the questionnaire was sent to 25 users by e-mail. Sixteen responses were received from the second pilot. After finalizing the questionnaire using the first and second pilots as well as the focus studies, the questionnaire was sent to 302 people through e-mail. 169 people responded the instrument corresponding to a response rate of 56% as a whole.

The questionnaire starts with demographic questions like gender, age, education and profession. The questions for the information of the existing and required products were asked using four-point Likert scale. The information for the existing and required products were being categorized as; existing characteristics, existing functions, required characteristics and required functions. The variables like usefulness, ease of use, etc of each category were measured in the characteristics part whereas the usage and requirements of the functions of the e-mail systems were measured in the functions part. The functions and characteristics were separated into existing and required in order to compare the existing e-mail systems people use and e-mail systems that people wish to use. SPSS has been used as the statistical analysis tool in the questionnaires. Reliability analyses were made as a first step in order to decide which variables would be used to reflect the summary characteristics (Appendix).

The variables Ease of Use (EoU) and Usefulness were adopted from Davis’ (1986) TAM model whereas Control has been adopted from the model TPB. Comfort and other subjective norms have been adopted from TRA. After the variables were determined by the reliability analyses, descriptive and frequency analyses were applied to the demographic variables. Then, paired t-test was computed in order to compare the existing and required functions and characteristics of the e-mail systems. Independent samples t-test was applied in order to compare the differences between female and male respondents. In order to compare the differences according to age, education and job category, ANOVA was used.


The sample of this study was selected from highly educated industry employees and some university students where majority enrolled in Management Information Systems Department. The total number of the valid responses was 169, where the profile of respondents is depicted in Table 1.

Table 1: Profile of the respondents
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As observed in the Table 1, gender is dispersed approximately equal (50-50%). The education level of the sample is higher compared to the whole population. As the aim of this study is to produce a detailed and need-based e-mail system profile for working people in the industry or the potential employees for the industry (university students), the adopter type is stated as the early-adopter because of their consciousness about the product and their innovativeness.

When we looked at the distribution of age, the sample is mostly composed of young respondents. 37% of the respondents are less than 25 and 44% are in the 25-30 interval. There are five main job categories; engineer, sales and marketing, finance and accounting, academic and education and students. Nine people have been categorized as other; 7 retired people, a dentist and a lawyer.

The main e-mail system that is asked from the respondents is shown in Table 2. Here, the most frequently used e-mail system is MS Outlook, followed by Yahoo with 20%, G-mail and Lotus Notes with 12%. Business professionals usually use MS Outlook, Outlook Express and Lotus Notes as their main e-mail system. Students mostly prefer Yahoo, G-mail and webmail systems and they rarely use MS Outlook or Lotus Notes.

Descriptive statistics have been computed for all variables in the questionnaire. Firstly the communication purpose, means and basic attributes were analyzed. The summary results are shown in Table 3-5.

Table 2: Main E-mail Usage Frequencies
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Table 3: Descriptive statistics for usage
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Table 4: Descriptive statistics for communication tool effectiveness
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Table 5: Descriptive statistics for attributes of communication
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People spent around one third of their computer time for receiving, sending and organizing e-mail messages on average. This is not a small time period, which should be managed carefully. This fact also gives some suggestions for the system design specifications that may assist user in time saving.

E-mail systems may be used with different motivations and purposes. We understand that members of our sample are busy with the e-mail systems for supporting their business affairs. Uses for professional purpose either work or education dominates private reasons.

When we analyze effectiveness of the different communication modes, people believe that face-to-face is the most effective way and however SMS receives lowest average rating. E-mail as a means of communication, its effectiveness is found to be moderate.

A non-stop and stable e-mail service seems to be compulsory. Even, being accessible from everywhere and anytime relatively has lowest average ratings, these are vital attributes sought by user.

Existing e-mail systems perception through various constructs taken from literature has been measured. Same construct also repeated for assessing user’s level of expectations. The gap between existing systems perception and the required level of performance is thought to be the potential for improvement. In order to check the significance of the difference between existing and required characteristics and functions, paired t-test analysis has been done. The comparisons are shown in Table 6 and 7.

When we examine the extreme values of the characteristics measurement we may conclude that e-mail users are satisfied with the user interface capability. As a natural consequence of this, they find the system ease to use and do not feel that they lose the control. Even the systems have numerous functionalities; people are picking the ones that they find most relevant and useful. At the other end, people do not conceive of e-mail systems as a means of social relations and as well they do not require. Since the systems do not easily allow integration, lack of compatibility is one source of complaints. Even people heavily use the e-mail systems and their long term existence is unavoidable, surprisingly they do not recognize the system as useful.

The most essential characteristics of an ideal e-mail system are; security, speed and reach ability.

Table 6: Comparison of existing and required characteristics
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Table 7: Comparison of existing and required functions
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People are nowadays are more wary about the security issues, including personal or professional e-mail messaging. Speed performance of communication often affects the personnel computer productivity. Augmented accessibility is another critical feature that users are seeking.

In overall e-mail users are not completely fulfilled with the general characteristics and the functions of their existing e-mail systems. The Table 6 apparently confirms that expectation is significantly greater than existing performance, which indicates that there is much to improve. Measure of gap for security and speed are greatest, which impose us to focus on this area. However security and speed can not be wholly solved within the boundaries of e-mail systems.

An examination of functions’ descriptive analysis, tell us a lot and provide us some clues of future design concepts. Use of foldering, trash and address book functions of the e-mail systems is intensive. A tendency to store enormous number of messages compels users to organize them by creating folders and sub-folders. Except a few situational cases the need of dictionary and spell checker functions are not felt and a demand for improvement of dictionary is not arising.

As expected, an advanced spam filtering mechanism is the most precious tool that will minimize frustration and waste of time and energy. People are reflecting their continuous need for address book and foldering functions and expecting an improvement.

The widest gap occurs at spam filter and address blocking which both serve to clean the dirty input. Unexpectedly an obvious improvement is expressed for an advanced spell checker, which may enhance the quality of mailed text.

The comparison of characteristics according to gender can be observed in Table 8. The variables that have E are the ones for existing and the variables that have R are the ones for required characteristics. The mean value that has highest value at the same row under categories is shown bold for enhanced readability.

The summary table helps us examine the variance based on gender. As expected males and females are differing in general, males think that the existing e-mail systems that they use are speedy enough whereas females do not agree. The requirements of females are often significantly higher than the requirements of the males.

Education is also another major source of variations which we should consider during product conception and specification development (Table 9).

Table 8: Comparison of characteristics according to gender
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The dominantly heavy use of e-mail for communication has been measured. This ratio is the highest for the high school graduates, whereas it is the lowest for the university students. This is found reasonable that university students are freer to use the other tools during a day like face-to-face, chatting and also they prefer SMS as a communication tool. High school graduates also think that their existing e-mail systems are secure whereas graduate and Ph.D’s belief is opposite. This shows that when the education level increases, people trust e-mail systems less. As the last one, university students seem to enjoy fast access more than the others whereas high school graduates are the ones who are satisfied with speed.

When the variables are analyzed according to age, we can not find a significant difference. Students think their existing e-mail systems are secure and easy to use. Engineers think that the reach ability and usefulness of the existing e-mails are low compared to others. They also demand alleviation of difficulty and control variables in an ideal e-mail system because they already think that the system is capable of realizing a better performance. Finance and Accounting staff is the ones that require usefulness and EoU most and they are also the ones that mostly think existing e-mails systems are useful. Academic and Education people are the ones who require control and reach ability most (Table 10).


The results presented in this study are especially beneficial for understanding perception and expectations of e-mail systems users. By understanding their desires for the product and the relationships between the existing characteristics and functions of the product, a good conceptual design of the product can be created. The process used to identify these features can be easily generalized across other software products.

Table 9: Comparison of characteristics according to education
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Table 10: Comparison of characteristics according to profession
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In this study, the specific types of customers that are working in the private sector were analyzed and their ideas about the current e-mail systems and their ideal e-mail systems have been compiled especially through questionnaires. There are significant differences of usage characteristics and requirement patterns between demographic groups like gender, age, job category. So, any design which aims to fulfill the needs of existing e-mail users should consider all these parameters. Females are hardly satisfied and are more social compared to males. Students use e-mail systems for more personal aims than the working people. The respondents that are older do not frequently use other functions of e-mails except messaging.

The architecture of the design has to be prepared such that the system allows immediate re-configuration for a different target user group, or an easy and powerful customization mechanism will respond to the demands of various user typologies. With this study, it became clearer that an e-mail system is a kind of product which is used according to the suggestions coming from word of mouth. This finding was especially become visible after the focus studies. Whenever a dependable person suggests an e-mail system or some of its features, her friends or colleagues are influenced and may attempt to experiment the new product. One additional result of this study is that; face-to-face communication is perceived as the most effective communication method between people whereas SMS is the lowest one. That may indicate that technology has still not reached to the level that would compete with face-to-face communication. So, e-mail software designers should find ways to get close to the level of effectiveness of face-to-face communication and somehow try to mimic human behavior.

This e-mail study could also be applied to the later adopter type of customers (e.g., who are less experienced with the e-mail systems and computers) so that their various desires and needs can be explored and assessed. The results of these kinds of customers would probably be different from this study. The result shows us that, e-mail systems are a kind of product that may be diversified according to the customer type. A house wife and a finance manager would use different functions of e-mail systems and they would most probably have different requirements for an ideal e-mail system. The customer types should be understood and the most appropriate e-mail systems combinations should be created for each group.

It’s not so simple to measure the expectations of customers entirely about the information system products and services and predict their future use behavior. In the next study, some models that have been developed for IS adoption can also be integrated to be able to assess the characteristics and desires of the customers more effectively.

Overall the paper is providing a methodology for software developers to decide on how they should customize different versions of their products. The e-mail case demonstrated how significant the differences can be across different users and how challenging this can be for those who are trying to develop a standard product.


Reliability Analysis  
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