Since the early days of my career, I’ve heard everyone from system administrators to CIOs say, “Nobody’s ever been fired for buying IBM.” Certainly, back in the height of the mainframe era, IBM was (and some would argue, still is) the king of mainframe computing and would deliver optimal uptime and reliability for those systems. Technical professionals on up to the key decision makers would be right to select the product which would be best for their organization, and for years, the choice of vendor would be obvious and unquestioned.
What surprises me though is that this mindset has carried on through to the current age of cloud computing, web applications and more technology vendors and service provider options than ever before. Some organizations use a formal RFP process to try and make decisions about which vendors to work with and procure products from, but this can still be heavily weighted in the favor of larger companies that are viewed as the more stable, more technically proficient providers simply because they have been around for a number of years or are a larger company than their competitors.
Choosing a vendor like this is, in its own way, the same as saying “Nobody’s ever been fired for buying IBM.” This is, at its core, a people problem. People do not want to make bad decisions and generally want to do the best thing for their company. If that means picking the most commonly chosen vendor’s products simply because a lot of other companies have done so rather than going through an extensive bake-off to determine what is best suited for their individual needs, most individuals will take the safer choice.
It is a cultural problem to take the least difficult path to a decision in order to be efficient while still providing service to one’s organization. Choosing the larger company with the most customers is seen as a rational decision point for procuring software, providing a safe assumption that a vendor couldn’t get to a place of prominence without providing all of the features and functions that is needed.
But, in today’s marketplace, cloud computing and the ease in which technology can be developed, implemented and deployed to scale means that even small vendors can provide software products which have all the features and functions of their largest competitors. These smaller companies often have the additional advantages of being able to respond to customer requests for new functionality more quickly, as they have smaller, more focused development teams.
These companies also commonly have more competent support teams for their specific products (as they are focused in on their own software, and can be kept up to date on all changes, updates and new features). Not to mention, these companies are more likely to negotiate pricing, as they are trying to build greater market share to compete with their larger rivals.
No, these firms may not be the proverbial “IBM”, but the sophistication and depth of technology available to developers today means that the gap between the well-established behemoths of a particular software vertical and what these smaller, more nimble companies provide has shrunk to levels we’ve never seen before.
But this can be used to your advantage. If you’re not already engaging these kinds of vendors during your selection processes, now is the time to encourage your internal teams to make this part of the culture of how you procure and implement software. As the technical differences between each vendor’s offering shrinks, look for companies that will deliver better support, more timely responses to customer feature requests, provide a more cost effective solution and, ultimately, are more interested in maintaining a relationship with your teams going forward, rather than sitting back on their laurels of being the largest.
Technology advances have leveled the playing field in your favor, providing more excellent options than ever before. Don’t default your decisions to what’s best known, but rather choose the vendor which provides software which is best suited to solve your organization’s problem, no matter their size.
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