Don’t worry – I am not trying to give a discourse on faith or religion on SCN.
This is just a rant on the “holier than thou” attitude that we see aplenty in the enterprise software ecosystem, and to submit that customers should actively plan to cancel out the bias of each of these parties to arrive at a good decision.
It is quite logical that companies who have to spend a lot of money on enterprise software will want to get a lot of up-front help and advise to make a good decision. Such “help” comes from a lot of places – from Vendors, Analysts, SI’s , other customers and so on. Where it gets kind of awkward is that all these parties try to portray that they are impartial and the others are not.
Software Vendors have to sell the product – and hence have little reason to show their product in less than favorable light. However, this does not mean that these vendors are out to cheat you outright. There are definitely some things that vendors should be doing better. One such case is the hyper inflated list price. As most experienced buyers know – almost no one buys anything at list price, and there is plenty of room to negotiate. But when the difference between list price and actual price gets ridiculous – customers will think that Vendors don’t have their best interests in mind. This is not a new phenomenon – but for whatever reason, Vendors don’t seem to care. I suppose it is just a matter of “who blinks first” amongst competing vendors. There are many many more – but lets move on to next party, the analysts.
The general idea is that analysts are impartial and hence will give the customer some great unbiased advice. If you go to any Vendor event – you will find a large number of analysts. Of course they need to go there to get some information on what the Vendor is up to. But I have a serious issue with their source of information – Vendors should not be the primary source of information for an analyst. That information should be verified with customers, SIs and academicians to make sure it holds water. For the most part, I don’t see that happen. In this day and age – every reputable analyst has a public blog. And most of them openly disclose affiliations to vendors. This is commendable – however, what is kind of funny is that well known analysts take potshots at some vendors when it is well known that they have affiliation with a competitor. In my eyes, this brings down the value of that person’s advice across the board. It is difficult to imagine this person does some parts of his work objectively, and other parts with another agenda.
However, I have also seen the other way around. Recently I saw a reputable analyst write a harsh review on a vendor that sponsors his site. That gives me the confidence that there are definitely great folks in the analyst community. I don’t particularly care for the “buy side” vs “sell side” analyst distinction. For one – it is an arbitrary one started by some who called themselves “buy side”. I know many known “buy side” folks who also consult to vendors. It is an arbitrary distinction in my mind, and I don’t give extra credits to any one for proclaiming themselves as “buy side”. All analysts need to be held to same standards.
I have known cases where academicians are brought in as advisors especially in new areas of technology. I am usually a fan of this approach – but it should be remembered that academia does not exist in isolation. To do research, academicians have to depend on some vendors, and might be paid by vendors too. Plus, remember that academicians – like analysts – are only human, and have an interest in promoting their thought leadership and research. So this needs to be factored into the equation.
What about Systems Integrators and independent consultants? Well, they absolutely have a great interest in winning the contract too. And most SIs are also long standing partners of software vendors, or might be software vendors themselves. So while they are great sources of information – especially since they have probably seen the software in action many times before – they might have a bias too that the buyer needs to factor in.
Finally, what about other customers? While generally it is a good idea to check with some one who has gone through this before, it will be naive to think that you will get to know “everything” that happened in that project. The other customer probably might tell you everything that is wrong with software – but might withhold some crucual context where they may fear will show them in poor light. And their contract with vendors might explicitly prevent them from disclosing everything to you.
There are definitely occasions where these folks sing from the same music sheet. A good example is when analysts say something good about a software vendor or an SI in a review. Then the Vendors and SIs will take this to every sales call they make. However, if the analyst says something less flattering – the same vendor will spin it as “oh it is just one data point. You cannot trust just that one piece of information to make a judgment call”.
So does that mean customers will never get useful information from any one? No – it just means customers will probably not get all the necessary information from any one party. In my opinion, a customer is best served if they get information from all these parties, and then use independent judgment instead of trusting any one or two of them. I am very sure that I didn’t say anything here that you didn’t know before. This is exactly why I wonder why the different parts of the ecosystem continue to have the “holier than thou” attitude – they all know that every one has an agenda, just like they have one themselves. Oh well, I should admit that when they do express their biased opinions, it does make interesting reading. Enterprise software will be a dull place without it, eh?