In short, a company that is well-aligned with your business, understands the product and has an experienced team can do a better job with a bad product than a company with none of those advantages can do with a good one. It occurs to me that if you start with the company and end with the product, assuring all of those elements, you'll get a better result regardless of the product than if you start with the best product and pick a company that is missing any one of those elements.
Let's explore that.
Inexperienced teams make email system deployments difficult
My first experience with this was while I was working at Giga. Giga, which was the only third-generation IT research firm, repeated the mistake that is common with virtually all research firms and didn't actually use its analysts to pick or deploy products. (It's a power thing. Ask Gartner sometime if the IT organisation follows its own analysis.) Anyway, we needed an email system that could support the firm's embrace of collaboration. Giga decided to deploy Lotus Notes over the objection of the email analyst. By coincidence, it was me- I thought Notes kind of sucked as an email system. Fun times.
We then employed an experienced team of Microsoft Exchange experts. (Ironically, this was the platform I'd been recommending to clients.) Unfortunately, the team knew nothing about Notes or our business. This then became one of the most expensive and problematic deployments I'd ever seen-and, having come from IBM, I'd seen a lot of Notes deployments.
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I wasn't a Notes fan, and though deployments could be difficult, the strength of the product was actually its administrative tools, so a knowledgeable team could generally get it working. Our team didn't, at least not very well, and a few years later Giga switched to Exchange, writing off the Notes deployment and allowing me to say "I told you so." This is very important to an analyst, as we live for such moments.
Then Forrester bought Giga and put us back on Notes, only to switch back to Exchange later. By then I was gone, but I said "I told you so" in spirit.
Business application deployment no easier
Since then I've looked at classes of products that include email, systems management, CRM, SFA, and even database offerings. In almost all cases, you can tie successes to deployment and sales teams that have a clue and failures to those that don't. This is particularly true with more invasive applications, such as business intelligence tools or those CRM and SFA products, which access a lot of corporate data.
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If a company is tight with your firm and understands intimately how you work, not only is it more likely to be able to recommend the right product, it is far more likely to anticipate the problems and create a solution that works.
This is often why, in the midmarket, a systems integrator or vendor such as Dell, which is specifically focused on that market, can do far better than a more traditional enterprise company. The firm can engage more deeply than the larger company can, and its teams tend to know both you and your market segment better. A large enterprise is likely to be far more complex, so it is critical to use an enterprise company that knows you; otherwise, the cost of learning this can be excessive.
This suggests a product selection process that is far different from what we have all be following.
Rethinking software selection, deployment
I'm still in the process of formalising the process so it can be more easily implemented, but this is what I have so far. I think this will avoid many of the historic problems particularly involving invasive applications and technologies.
Rather than starting with the product, start with the vendors and integrators who know you best. Rank these firms and then use the most highly ranked to help to come up with a set of options, products and services they recommend to solve your problem. Then evaluate your choices based on how well they were pitched by the people who supposedly know you and the on strength of the deployment and sales team, based on feedback from your team.
This does two things - it gets you the best overall combination of deployment, products and services, and it rewards firms who know you best and consistently do better work for you. In short, it drives and assures loyalty and competency from your vendors. That, my friends, is worth its weight in gold. Think about it.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Rob writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.