Blind Vendor Allegiance Trumps Utility

Refrigerator photo by xJasonRogersx via Flickr (Creative Commons)

At the recent Gartner MDM Summit in Las Vegas I was approached at least a half a dozen times by people wondering what MDM vendor to choose. I gave my usual response, which was, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Normally a (short) conversation ensues of functions, feeds and speeds, which then leads to my next question, “So, what are your priorities and decision criteria?  The responses were all the same, and I have to admit that they surprised me.

“We know we need MDM, but our company hasn’t really decided what MDM is.  Since we’re already a [Microsoft / IBM / SAP / Oracle / SAS] shop, we just thought we’d buy their product…so what do you think of their product?”

I find this type of question interesting and puzzling. Why would anyone blindly purchase a product because of the vendor, rather than focusing on needs, priorities, and cost metrics?  Unless a decision has absolutely no risk or cost, I’m not clear how identifying a vendor before identifying the requirements could possibly have a successful outcome.

If I look in my refrigerator, not all my products have the same brand label. My taste, interests, and price tolerance vary based upon the product. My catsup comes from one company, my salad dressing comes from another, and I have about seven different types of mustard (long story). Likewise, my TV, DVD player, surround sound system, DVR, and even my remote control are all different brands. Despite the advertisers’ claims, no single company has the best feature set across all products. For those of you who are loyal to a single brand, you can stop reading now. I’m sure you think I’m nuts.

The fact is that different vendors have different strengths, and this causes their products to differ. Buyers of these products should focus on their requirements and needs, not the product’s functions and features. Somehow this type of logic seems to escape otherwise smart business people. A good decision can deliver enormous benefits to a company; a bad decision can deliver enormous benefits to a company’s competitors. 

What other reason would there be for someone saying, “We’re a [vendor name here] shop?” Examples abound of vendors abandoning products. IBM’s Intelligent Miner data mining tool, OS/2, the Apple Newton, Microsoft Money are but a few of the many examples.

Working with a reputable vendor is smart.  Gathering requirements, reviewing product features, and determining the best match creates the opportunity for developing a client/vendor partnership.  So why would anyone throw all of that out and just decide to pick a vendor?  I guess lots of folks thought that Bernie Madoff was their partner. Need I say more?

photo by xJasonRogersx via Flickr (Creative Common License)

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About Evan Levy

Evan Levy is management consultant and partner at IntegralData. In addition to his day-to-day job responsibilities, Evan speaks, writes, and blogs about the challenges of managing and using data to support business decision making.

7 responses to “Blind Vendor Allegiance Trumps Utility”

  1. Dylan Jones says :

    Excellent post Evan.
    You’re absolutely right. I often speak to members in our community who have been saddled with a particular product simply because corporate procurement have an established framework rate with a particular vendor or an enterprise license already in place etc.
    In some cases, sure, you’ll get lucky but in my experience it is far more cost-effective to purchase the right horse for the right course.
    Great post as ever.

  2. evan levy says :

    Thanks for the remarks. It’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure that no deal becomes a 1 horse race.

  3. Bill Hewitt says :

    Great perspective, Evan. We’ve found that our most successful customers focus first on how to drive business value from MDM, then select the tool that matches that need. I’ve expounded on this a bit more on my own blog at:

  4. Phil Simon says :

    Great post. Your Madoff and refrigerator analogies are completely on-point.
    You’d hope that the last fifteen years would have taught people a thing or two. When I read posts like this, though, I get a little disillusioned.
    Why one would ignore basic questions is beyond me.

  5. evan levy says :

    thanks for the feedback and remarks.
    I’m not sure that people are consciously ignoring the basic questions. I really think it’s driven by an outta whack set of priorities. I frequently find that management can be so focused on “finishing tasks” that they haven’t considered the impact of making the wrong choice when insufficient time is available to do the work in the first place. If a product review requires 3 weeks and someone only has 1 week — no one considers the cost of choosing the wrong product. And the impact that’s likely to occur over the next 3 years of its use.

  6. Sandeep Potnis says :

    Excellent post. I agree with your point about starting with the requirements.
    From what I have noticed, there is an underlying premise that all MDM tools provide similar business functionalities.
    On the other hand, there is also some “integration fatigue” in integrating products from different vendors besides having to monitor various product roadmaps for future gotchas. This, of course, does not mean that different products from a single vendor are virtually plug-and-play but there seems to be a perception that dealing with a single vendor is easier than dealing with multiple vendors.

  7. Brian says :

    Going with one vendor has it’s own pitfalls – The “integrated” solutions they offer are many times in fact loosely coupled products they’ve acquired over time. The hard part is they will hide, or fail to disclose, the limitations in their own “integrated” product lines. The hidden costs surface when you have to develop around or pay for their consultants to work around their product issues. Single vendor solutions aren’t always the answer to integration fatigue. Let the buyer beware.

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