This week I made a poor choice when it came to selecting an evening’s entertainment and it was this poor choice that inspired me to write this post on technology selection.
On Tuesday this week (7th March 2017) I decided to go to watch my football team, Manchester City, take on Stoke City in an English Premier League game. The alternative source of footballing entertainment that evening was to stay at home and watch Barcelona play Paris St Germain in a European Champions League match on the TV. This was the return fixture of a two leg match which Paris had won 4-0 in the first game, therefore the outcome seemed something of a forgone confusion, but if there was a comeback it would be something pretty special and this was Barcelona after all. My principles (mainly my loyalty to Manchester city) however won out and I went along to sit in my usual seat in Manchester. Cutting to the end of the evening, my friend and I had watched (endured) our beloved City thrash out a (cough) thrilling 0-0 draw whilst Barcelona managed one of the greatest sporting come backs of all time (actually, the second best comeback of all time, see this), beating Paris 6-1 with the winning goal coming in the dying moments of the game (I won’t get into the intricacies of the away goal rule here, but non-football followers trust me, the 6th goal right at the end of the match was necessary).
What relevance does this have for a post on a technology strategy blog? Well, this decision, which was driven exclusively by my principles and the precedence they took over other inputs, got me thinking about how we often make such decisions in the work place. By this I mean, how often we filter out options and possibilities based on long standing and probably originally well intentioned principles that may have lost their relevance today. Where I see it most commonly is in the conversations I have with clients on a daily basis regarding the selection of technology solutions. I cover the Content Services market (or ECM in old money – see here) but this behavior is not exclusive to any single technology or business domain. Purchasing stakeholders often filter their potential technology choices based on a range of principles, the most common being:
- We are a “Vendor X” shop, we therefore only buy our software from “Vendor X”
- We only buy open source software / COTS software
- We don’t do cloud
- We will only to consider vendors in the leaders quadrant of the relevant Gartner MQ
- We only buy the cheapest solutions
In my experience these principles, often masquerading as technology strategy or enterprise architecture can be hugely limiting. To revert to the sporting spectator analogy, the excitement (i.e. the really innovating stuff) could be happening elsewhere. A more optimal approach would be to constantly challenge these principles and constraints. To relate back the examples above:
- Don’t just stick to vendors out of brand loyalty or strategic principles without thoroughly analysing the market for fit to your requirements. Many solutions are aligned with the strategic technologies you have based these principles on and in these days of proliferation of cloud services it is typically far less important anyway.
- Assess how important, really, is the way the code is developed? If extensibility is key then look for support for open standards at supported extension points rather than the ability to “roll your own” version.
- “Cloud reluctance” is typically driven by security, privacy and regulatory principles. Some of these challenges may be insurmountable, others less so, i.e. is your data centre really as secure as the cloud offerings vendors are proposing? It warrants assessment at least.
- Look at all players in the magic quadrant and beyond (MQs typically have contextualizations that are suited to particular markets) their strengths may be particularly suited to your organisation and requirements.
- Cheapest may not be most cost effective long term when another solution has to be sought because no one wanted to use the “cheap” solution originally procured.
In reality I would never have chosen to stay in and watch a match on the TV rather than go and watch my team, with my friends, live in a stadium even if I had known the scores in advance. The same is true with organizational strategic principles. Some, like sports team allegiance, are non-negotiable. However my point here is that sometimes it is usually always worth reassessing these principles and determining if abandoning them where suitable may ensure you have a front row seat at where the exciting stuff is happening.
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