This is the story of how you’re buying your enterprise software the wrong way. Probably your appliances, too.
This post is also available in Chinese thanks to Xu Zhi.
Some years ago, I had a broken GE washer. Pretty sure I knew the culprit, but if I was wrong I’d waste a bunch of money on a part I couldn’t return. So I called a local repair shop who serviced a number of brands, including mine. “Oh, we don’t repair GE anymore. They’re pretty much throwaways now. When they break, you just buy a new one.”
This shocked me, beyond learning of GE’s quality nosedive.1 If their products frequently broke, wouldn’t that mean a steady stream of work? Then I realized a flaw in human reasoning. The first time it breaks, you blame the manufacturer. The second time, and every time after that, you blame the repair shop. For a repair shop, servicing appliances from a bad vendor can damage your reputation. Upon realizing this, I called him right back. “If GE is bad, who do you recommend?” I got a full education on washers, including a lot of industry dirty laundry.
Since then, every time I make an appliance purchase – vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, car – I go to a repair shop. They’re always excited to talk to someone who will listen. They may even have a used model that will last you for years.
System integrators are a lot like repair shops. They aren’t just connecting your new enterprise software to your other systems, but customizing the code to conform your business processes.2 Hopefully there are APIs to do everything you want, but maybe they have to modify the core code.3 The good ones are experienced, know the domain (ecommerce, ERP, CRM, etc.), and work with multiple vendors.
Their developers, at least, have opinions. Likely strong ones. I’ve been in this position in the past. I won’t name names, but I’ve had the following conversation with developers from other SIs:
“You guys are FooSoft partners, right? How is it?”
“Really? Because we use BarSoft and it’s a pile of garbage. It’s got rabble rabble rabble…”
“Sigh. FooSoft is terrible too, it has all the same problems.”
“I hear NewSoft is actually decent.”
“Yeah, I was working on it for a short while before getting pulled off to help a late project. It’s actually pretty nice!”
This is how I was able to determine who the top vendors were in terms of quality. The problem is, most companies don’t buy software with this way. They cut out the system integrators entirely.
Typically, your CTO/CIO/CMO, etc. while first try to determine what they need. Come up with a list of features. Ballpark a budget. Then, they start talking with vendors directly.
See, they have a background in, say, networking engineering. Pretty technical. And they spent a lot of money buying the network hardware and it was a big success. Then they did a desktop refresh, and that went well, too. So clearly, spending a lot of money on tech is something they do well, right?
Well, I’m highly technical, and I would not feel comfortable upgrading the network infrastructure of a medium-size enterprise without significant outside help. However, most execs go straight to the vendor. They deal with the vendor’s formidable enterprise sales team, who knows exactly what to say. I mean, have you seen a good enterprise sales team in action? They are pretty amazing to watch.
But this is like doing your appliance selection by talking to whoever is on the floor at Sears that day. Actually, it’s worse, because at least the salesperson might know which models have the highest return rate. By going to the vendors, you have zero inside knowledge. It’s more like visiting appliance manufacturer websites. We all know how helpful those are. And instead of risking hundreds of dollars, you’re risking hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
I’ll follow this up with a piece on how I would handle this, including conflicts of interest the system integrator may have (nothing is perfect). In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m sure I’m ruffling the feathers of some very powerful birds, but at a minimum, someone who reads this will end up with a reliable washing machine.
Disclaimer: My company, Made Up Name, is not a partner or system integrator for any enterprise software platform. However, we often recommend third party software to our clients, in an ethical manner, without kickbacks. Certainly, a million times more ethical and cheaper than charging them to build yet another ecommerce platform.