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Let he who is without sin cast the first stone

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?

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  • Hi Vijay: 

    Thanks for this post.  I think you’re right on target, and it’s something akin to even taking your news sources with a grain of salt, understanding potential biases, and getting general news and information from more than one source. I was listening to a radio program just a couple days ago and back in the days of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer and others, the biases of various publications were very tilted, and yet the readers largely knew this and took the biases into account when they formed opinions.  Today, with Fox News versus National Public Radio and the Wall Street Journal versus New York Times and politicians ranting about a slanted media, that still exists to varying degrees.  Use the same caution and thoughtful discernment you would to form a political opinion to also understand the biases in software vendor / solution selection, get information from multiple sources, take some of the overblown rhetoric with a grain of salt, and you’ll be on a better path. 

    Thanks for sharing,
    Mark Yolton

    • Hi Mark

      Thanks for reading and taking time to comment thoughtfully. The quality of due diligence spent on buying decisions varies greatly in my experience. Some take it to an extreme, and some hardly do a good job. I have come across customers who are so loyal to some software that they will force fit it to all scenarios, and make a case to procurement to buy it.

      Rational thought does not always prevail 🙂


  • Vijay,

    I like this comment most of all:

    ” 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.” Agree with @yolton’s comment also.

    I think customers do themselves a disservice when they got locked into one vendor or perspective, and that happens more than you might think the way vendor approvals are handled inside companies – it’s not always easy to switch gears.

    I too am wary of distinctions like “he’s independent” or “she works for Gartner, so she can’t be honest about conflicts of interest”. Same thing with buy side and sell side distinctions.

    I think of it like this: all of us get their bills paid from somewhere. Beyond that, we ALL have agendas. What’s most important is to make our disclosures and biases as upfront as possible. All I can say is that I value integrity, not as an award on a plaque but as a passionate, self-reflective striving, a bar we always aim for and do our best to get near. I can’t always define it, but I usually know it when I see it.

    Having said that, my best way to get an accurate picture of SAP trends is to make sure I’m getting a variety of thoughtful and informed voices. Final point: I do think it’s difficult to criticize those who pay the bulk of your bills, which is why it’s relevant who pays the bulk of our bills and how we disclose that. I’m just a solo “analyst” finding my way but that doesn’t mean I am not accountable to the same professional standards as any larger practice. Likewise, I like to think a larger firm could learn a thing or two from the comparative openness of those who have more freedom to blog without running things up flagpoles. The customer benefits from a range of voices and hopefully seeks them out.

    – Jon

  • Good article and an important message to get multiple opinions from multiple parties with an understanding that they are each coming with with their own biases.

    It is like buying a stock… should find multiple sources of information (analysts), talk to company and management, talk to experts in the field, research information and financials and ulitmately with all that information you still need to make the final decision that you are the owner of. The sad thing is not many people have that level of due diligence for either their investments or enterprise software.

    • Great comment – it is best if customers take their own decisions after carefully considering all the input. Your example of buying stocks is a good one – I cannot hold an analyst responsible if I blindly trusted his advise and bought a stock that loses value. I should be able to live with the decisions I make – good or bad.
  • Vijay – you are expecting a lot.  Us customers usually don’t think rationally.

    Seriously.  I love this blog!  It’s so true.  You have to view everything with a grain of salt. Look at what others are doing, do a little research on SCN, and get different options.  There seems to be 10,000 different ways to do one thing.  Which is the best for my company?  Ultimately the people at the company have to decide. 

    And Not just the entire solution – which is the most important.  But something as small as consultants / contractors writing code that will live on your system. 

    A simple code review can stop a lot of really bad code.  Your goal, keeping your system clean may not be the goal of getting the project done on time.  Maybe another blog.  🙂


    • LOL – Michelle 🙂

      I agree on checking on consultant’s work if you can. Consultants come and go – and might not know all the standards you have in your environment. Or you might just get a person with poor skills who brings down the system with bad code. So yes – I am all for it. I have been in the reverse situation too – where client asked me to review the work of internal developers. Irrespective who gets to check, or get checked – QA is a much needed thing.

  • Hi Vijay,

    As always love to read your blogs. Although some are beyond me 🙂

    In this case, as you said there is nothing new and everyone knows these things already.

    Could be the whole ecosystem working together? You know all those special consipracies, where on the outside two parties are in conflict and tryingto challenge, but internally all working together to be in business together :)And here customer is included too.

    This is a thought running in my mind last 1-2 weeks. But just could not sit down and write it down. Hopefully this weekend 🙂

    Arundeep Singh