CXO

The effects of letting others drive

Do you ever wonder who is driving the bus?  Did your company leaders really decide all on their own to be the flag bearer for that particular vendor’s fresh new technology?  It seems some IT managers can get as caught up in the hype of a new product as kids can with a new toy.  Of course, impulse buying in the enterprise IT market can be a bit more costly than your average toy.  Emotions can play a part in business purchases in much the same way that we purchase consumer goods based on emotion at the local department store.  (Local electronics store is probably more accurate.)  Vendors know this, to be sure. 

Have you ever noticed the people who come back from customer appreciation or vendor sponsored events?  If it was well put together, people usually return full of excitement for some of the up-coming product releases and upgrades; full of the Kool-Aid, so to speak.  There is also the box of mostly useless vendor handouts to distribute to the rest of the staff while evangelizing the good cause.

Ah, but most IT pros can see through the fluff their managers ate and drank while on their business trip.  They’ll be the ones implementing and supporting it, after all, and will tend to look at the proposed solution a bit more practically.  “You came back with what?” they might ask.

Let’s say, for instance, you’re manager leaves for a week to attend a vendor showcase.  When he returns, he reveals that he has purchased something called a Reference Information Storage System (RISS).  It is professed to be an “active-archiving” data management solution which is “application-aware” so as to assist customers in complying with government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  It is a key component of HP’s Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) business solution.

On the surface, this seems to be a sound solution which should benefit the company as described.  But digging deeper, you realize that it’s yet another unnecessarily complex storage solution which does not appear to be based on open standards.  It’s proprietary.  So what happens to your data when HP decides RISS isn’t profitable and pulls the plug on future releases?  I’m sure HP will be prepared to offer a replacement system – for a fee, of course. 

Customers become married to particular vendors, and can live and die together if they’re not careful.  Competition drives customers to seek out business partnerships with vendors whose solutions are most in-line with their needs while offering the steepest discounts.  Over time, the number of critical business applications provided by a small number of vendors is so great that it becomes too cost detrimental to change partnerships.  Lackluster products are overlooked with the promise of a more stable release in the future.  Complexity and inter-application integration eventually breeds dependence.

When this marriage between customer and vendor becomes too strong, the customer could find themselves in the backseat shouting directions to the vendor behind the wheel.  The party with the least to lose is influencing decisions which drive the customer’s success or failure.  Are there better solutions offered by someone else?  Maybe.  But it’s best to not look because they aren’t the preferred vendor.  You should just keep your eyes focused over here.

It often seems as if companies are nothing more than professional athletics programs obligated to wear certain sponsor’s apparel (i.e., only deploy solutions offered by their primary vendor).  Maybe to follow suit, customers should name some of their buildings after vendors.  How about the Cisco Financial Research Complex or the Microsoft Centre for Long-term Patient Care? 

Your manager occasionally stops by your desk with that telling grin.  Without saying a word, he just communicated that you’re being assigned to a project which won’t at all be enjoyable.  It’s probably a billing system migration to a newly released system by the company’s preferred vendor, likely through an acquisition (pay no attention to the RC1 stamped on the installation media).  And, oh yeah, you’ll be migrating the MS SQL database to Pervasive SQL and the client requires Java version 1.4.2_05 which will just so happen to break the HR software client you deployed last month.  Can you have it done by next week?  That should still leave you enough time to apply the Daylight Savings Patch to all of the systems.  As he walks away smiling, you expect to see the vendor’s name in alternating red blinking lights on the heel of each shoe.

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