Here in the U.S. we celebrate the 4th of July our day of independence signifying freedom. But we often seem happier when there is someone telling us what to do -- some person or vendor who takes away the burden of a decision and just makes it for us.
We don't think about our freedoms enough and while I could easily drift into a rant about politics, let's stayed focused on our freedom to choose technology and who has to make the choice.
The Politics of IT Decision-Making
Over a decade ago I wrote my first column and it had a title like "Linux not ready for the Enterprise." That one column changed my life largely because it got me to think of things differently. I left Forrester shortly after to go off on my own as a result.
The column was actually a repurposed con side of a debate piece that I didn't want to waste. The pro side, written by a CIO, was pulled because she was afraid she'd get fired. And I actually thought she should be.
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The piece wasn't about the Linux the platform, but about picking any platform based on a political view. She chose Linux because she wanted to go to war with Microsoft. I don't believe CIOs have the authority to declare war with anyone. That's a CEO thing. My argument was that anything that got CIOs to behave badly should be avoided.
Now to be fair, I wasn't looking for anything deep as I was pinch-hitting for an analyst who refused to write. I wasn't the expert on the technology, so I picked a battlefield I knew something about: organizational politics and command hierarchy.
But then, as now, I don't believe a CIO can declare war, but they can subordinate their company to another and I wonder if that is really in their job description either.
No Freedom in Vendor Lock In
There are a handful of companies that have implemented a lock-in strategy. This means they work like the hotel in the song "Hotel California." You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.
There are benefits to programs like this in that they reduce choice and you take less risk because you consistently can blame one vendor for problems. But they have a cost in that the vendor knows you are subordinated to them and, like a feudal lord, they will have a tendency to milk you for resources.
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You see, I believe that product choices should be based on corporate needs and related benefits not based on a vendor's need for more revenue or because you have no other choice.
Now there are risks to this: Stuff often doesn't work well together and if you make a choice, you get the blame if it is a bad one. But I still the choice is worth it.
Are You on a Vendor Path to Freedom?
During this time when we celebrate freedom, I think we should work to preserve it for our firms. With that in mind, before even considering a product, consider whether the vendor works well with others, has a history of doing what is right for the customer and works its butt off to be competitive and honest -- not dictatorial and dishonest.
There are vendors in the market at all levels that preserve choice, focus on customer advocacy and loyalty as key measures of success, and that appear to care more about you and your company than they do about your quarterly budget and how much they can get of it.
I'm suggesting that this 4th of July, even if you aren't U.S.-based, you sit back and think of the vendors that had your back and those that had a knife to it. Now is the perfect time to formulate a plan to get more of the former and get the latter the hell out of your company. In the end, I expect you'll be more successful, happier and to a large extent more free as a result.
Happy 4th of July!