Choosing Sides In Technology

Sometimes There Is Too Much Choice

Sometimes There Is Too Much Choice

I started out the evening writing a post on Aruba ClearPass, but this has been weighing on my mind lately, so I figured Aruba ClearPass can wait.

It seems that the Internet is filled with all sorts of opinions as it relates to all things IT. Shocking, isn’t it? ;)

We squabble over all sorts of technical things that mean a great deal to us as IT folks, but probably not a whole lot to the people who actually benefit from the use of those systems. Yes, I am referring to the end users. What do they care about? They care about their systems working. That’s it. They have their own jobs to worry about. This can be confirmed by the fact that end users almost never call up the IT department or fire off an e-mail unless there is a problem. Consider exhibit A:

1. Does it work? Great. I can do my job. The IT department isn’t even on my mental radar.

2. Is it broken? Uh oh. Now I can’t do my job as effective, or quite possibly, at all. Time to notify IT to get this thing back up and running.

Now, take that same concept and apply it to something you care about other than IT stuff. Do you like getting paid? I sure do. Two times a month, my paycheck is deposited into my bank account. How often do you think I swing by the accounting department to discuss my paycheck? If you guessed almost never, you are correct. As long as the check shows up, I am happy. If the check doesn’t get deposited, you better believe I am going to reach out to the accounting department and ask about it. If I don’t get paid, I am not going to do any work for that company. It’s a pretty simple relationship I have with them. I don’t really care how the money gets into my bank account as long as it gets there on time.

Does The Solution Matter?

This is a semi-loaded question, because it really depends on your angle. Consider these 5 potential angles:

1. Vendor – You ABSOLUTELY think the solution matters. You make your living off of selling your solution. Why would you not think your stuff is the best? To the vendor, there is a wrong way to do things, and there is their way. The right way. Maybe not for every scenario, and a good vendor will tell you when  they are not the right fit for you. I don’t want to make all IT vendors sound like they are soulless corporations out to take all your money. They aren’t. They are made up of people not unlike the people that work for the companies they sell to or partner with. They just chose a side. They’ll root for their team as long as they are a part of that vendor organization. I don’t think most people go to work for vendors hoping they fail. They believe in their message. You’ll find many idealists in the vendor ranks. No problem with that. That’s what it takes to make an impact in the marketplace.

The vendor will be ready to talk you out of every other vendor’s solution but theirs. Maybe that salesperson sitting in front of you isn’t well versed in their competition and can only spout their own talking points. Maybe they are hoping the potential customer isn’t savvy enough to counter their pitch with an informed view of that particular solution segment of the market. Or maybe, the vendor has brought in one of their specialized engineers/evangelists/sales superstar to answer all your questions around the competitor’s solutions. Maybe they do it without stretching the truth at all and just lay it all out there for you the end customer, to decide.

The vendor is in this battle to close the deal. They want the sale. Nothing wrong with that at all. Some do it better than others. Some do it more ethically than others. Some don’t even have to try that hard since their technology is well known and respected.

2. Reseller – The solution MAY matter. It depends on who they sell for. It also depends on whether or not the vendor walked them into this deal. I can tell you that if a vendor walks us into a deal(I work for a reseller), I will do my absolute best to ensure I ONLY pitch their solution(s). The only time I will veer off message is if a customer asks me a very direct question regarding a competitor or about that particular vendor that brought me. I won’t lie. Period. If I don’t know, then I say I don’t know. I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds me though and offer up alternate vendors that my company may sell for right in front of the vendor that walked us into the deal. That’s just bad business.

What if a reseller only sells a solution for a single vendor in the segment of IT you are looking in to make a purchase? What solution do you think is going to be pitched? If you guessed the one they sell for, you are correct. Consider something like switching. My company sells for several switching vendors. While I may LIKE other vendors, I am not going to be pitching switches from a vendor I don’t sell for and tell the customer to go to another reseller to make the purchase. Does that seem like I am boxed in? To a certain extent, yes. However, if none of the solutions my company sells for are going to be a fit for that particular customer, I have no problems telling them that. My experience is that most vendors(I’d say 9 out of 10) can solve 90% of the customer’s problems. It’s the corner cases that really involve a lot of head scratching and pondering.

To sum up the reseller, the solution matters if they sell that within that segment of IT. If you were in the market for a new car and went to a Ford dealership, what kind of car do you think they are going to sell you? That’s how business works. They have a select set of product, and their job is to move that product. I will add that provided that product can solve the customer’s problem, there is nothing wrong with that. You cannot be all things to all people. Try it, and you’ll find that you will be good at nothing.

3. Vendor Bigots(Pro) – Some people go all in with a vendor and don’t necessarily even work for that vendor. They exist in the reseller market as well as on the end customer side. No matter what, their first choice is always their favorite vendor. They’ll go to great lengths to ensure their favorite is the vendor of choice. Sometimes they have VERY valid reasons for doing so. Other times, they just like that vendor more than the others. The solution matters to them as long as it is their vendor of choice. All other solutions are inferior in their mind. Again, might be a valid reason based on solid research and experience, or it might be out of sheer stubbornness or ignorance.

4. Vendor Bigots(Con) – Some people hate certain vendors with the fire of a thousand suns. Maybe they had some really bad experiences. Maybe they hate the market leaders(sales numbers). Maybe they hate the small upstarts that are clamoring for any market share they can find. Maybe they are turned off by the arrogance of certain vendors(real or perceived). It could be any number of things. In my experience, the vendor bigots of the “con” persuasion tend to hate the bigger vendors and feel like they are getting ripped off and sold bad technology. They generally have some vague story about a perceived evil that was done to them or their network by the big bad vendor. Might be a valid reason, or might be paranoia.

Note – In my experience, vendor bigots of any persuasion tend to be more on the uninformed side when it comes to alternative view points. I have learned in my almost 20 years of IT that exposure to other vendors is a good thing. For example, I am currently deploying an Aruba Instant solution for a customer and it is my first time working with this technology using more than a single access point. I love it. It just works. It might not have all the features that other solutions have, but for this particular deployment, it meets all of the customer’s needs. Prior to this, I had a few “go-to” vendors for similar solutions, but now my eyes have been opened even more. That isn’t to say that I will always favor Aruba Instant for every similar deployment. It simply means that I can help a customer make a more informed choice. It makes me a better engineer, and it helps any of my company’s customers make a better decision when it comes to this type of technology.

5. The “Just Make It Work” People – These people don’t really care about the logo on the box or software provided it works. That’s all they care about. They may or may not be sensitive to price. If their pain is great enough, price isn’t the most important issue, provided you can stop the 2am phone calls from rousing them from their slumber.

What Is The RIGHT Solution?

The one that works. Period.

While that seems like a pretty straightforward answer, it is a little more complicated than that.

1. Price – As much as I wish it didn’t, price matters.
2. Vendor ecosystem – Is there information available from the vendor on the product in more detail than a data sheet?
3. Supportability – Can my in house/outsourced staff manage this solution, or is it too complicated?
4. Life expectancy - Is the vendor going to be around in a year and will this solution last long enough to meet my needs in the future?

There are probably more variables, but those are the big ones I run across.

What’s Wrong With Preference?

Nothing at all. It is human nature to prefer certain things over others.

Consider the various political rhetoric that is spewed on Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis. Some people have a preference for a particular political party and have their feet in concrete. No matter what, it is always the “other” side that is wrong. If you were to ask some of the zealots out there, they would tell you that they are reasonable. They are open minded. They consider all the variables and amazingly, they are always on the correct side of things. If you could just open your eyes and see things their way, you would be better off. They look in the mirror and see a reasonable and informed person. The “other” side is full of morons and idiots. They are the lemmings. The dummies. The followers. If always falling on one side of the coin makes you think of yourself as “independent”, then you are delusional and arrogant. Probably beyond any sort of help, to be quite honest.

Now take the above rant and apply it to technology. The same person exists, but with an eye towards technology. I have always maintained that the esoteric nature of what we do in IT can breed arrogance. Couple that with a social media platform from which to preach our message and we become convinced that we have the answers to all the questions you may have. If you could just see it our way……

Preference in and of itself isn’t bad. The world would be a very boring place if we all chose the same things all of the time. I find though, that my familiarity with certain solutions breeds preference. That doesn’t mean we make poor choices when we choose solutions we prefer based on our experience, or based on who is signing our paychecks. As long as the solution gets the job done, does it really matter? No. If the customer is happy to pay Cisco to get a datacenter full of Nexus switches, let them. If the customer would rather pay another vendor to use their switches instead of Cisco, let them. It is their network. They will succeed or fail based on their choices.

I have seen quite a few customers make decisions that my company recommended against and be perfectly fine. I have also seen the opposite.

Is This Post Over Yet?

Yes. In summary, the customer will make the decision they feel is best for them. You may not like the decision, but it is theirs to make. Maybe it was uninformed, or maybe it was done after careful consideration of the alternatives.

Additionally, all vendors have very smart people developing and selling solutions to end customers. Resellers and end customers also employ very smart people as well. You won’t always know all the reasons people make the choices they do when it comes to technology. However, if you simply ask them WHY, they may just surprise you. The things you are passionate about when it comes to your solution of choice may not be a big deal to that other person. Or, by engaging them in a professional manner, you may just be able to sway their opinion more in your favor. Technology is always changing. Vendors come and go. Architectures come and go. Understanding WHY you hold a certain opinion will help you more than being stubborn and refusing to admit you may be wrong. We’re all wrong at some point.

Now I am off to go find another knock-down, drag out, technology fight on social media. I may even participate, hoping you will just see it my way. :)

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5 Responses to Choosing Sides In Technology

  1. Devin Akin says:

    Well done! Bravo.

    Devinator

  2. Fernando Montenegro says:

    Great post, wish more people in industry – vendors, resellers, customers – were as clear and level headed as this. Instead, we get the egos, the drama, …

  3. Mark says:

    I’d be a lot more interested to hear thoughts about clear pass…

  4. Joe says:

    Would love to see a side of GPO’s and the IT ecosystem and their influence on the customer purchase process (right or wrong), especially when the selection is not the best technological choice. Great blog as always and enjoyed the read.

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