Advertisement from a major software company:

We are programmed to receive.  You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.

Wait, sorry.  Those are lyrics to Hotel California by the Eagles.  But, it COULD be an advertisement for many, many software companies.

I recently sat on an advisory panel for a major cloud provider who asked what kept me up at night.  I told them they did because they had created a closed solution and yet were becoming a major part of my strategy in the State of Colorado.  They had built their own software language and had created a closed platform around it.  In order to get the most bang for the buck, I had to hire new types of developers who knew their proprietary language.  In general, it was more expensive for me to use that platform and I had to weigh that cost to the benefits (which, don’t get me wrong, were great).  I asked them to open source their solution to level the playing field.  They blinked and moved on to another topic.

Of course, you can’t blame a company for wanting their solution to be ‘sticky’.  The ultimate goal is a customer for life and what a better strategy than to make it so painful to leave that you don’t.  Except this strategy stinks.  I always try to figure out how I’m going to get out while I’m getting in.  (No, I don’t do this with relationships.)  Companies go out of business, get acquired, change direction, and so on.  So, I always have an exit strategy when purchasing new technology services.  Having this strategy upon purchase is just as important as buying the service.  Plus, a great exit strategy can allow you to try smaller, more innovative (read: riskier) technologies.

So, how can you prevent getting locked into a vendor’s solution?

  1. Think about it BEFORE you buy it.   It probably sounds straightforward, but I am constantly surprised by how many people will buy a product and then realize months later they are locked in.  Usually after a price increase.
  2. Can you get your assets (information, business process) out of it easily?  One of my teams recently wanted to purchase a new and innovative solution around Big Data tools.  I pushed back, since Big Data tools are open source.  Why would we want to buy it?  But, as we reviewed it, we saw that the underlying tool set remained open source and available.  The tool just layered on top to provide ease of maintenance and deployment.  We bought it.  It saved us time and money.  But, if they ever become too expensive, we still have all our underlying open source assets.
  3. How difficult will it be to migrate, if need be?  Several years ago, nobody would have believed Microsoft would be losing business to Google.  But, Google made it relatively easy to migrate Microsoft email and documents into their app suite.  So, now customers have a choice and competition is driving down prices.  If there is no competition or it’s extremely painful to migrate, perhaps you should find an alternative.
  4. Can I integrate with other business solutions?  Does the vendor keep an ‘open platform’ full of API calls and ways to integrate with other software solutions?
  5. Does it require a lot of extra skills to use the tool and can you find these types of people at a reasonable cost?  Enough said.

Of course, there are times when you make a decision even if the migration path may be difficult down the line.  Just make sure you know where the nearest exit is before the plane takes off.

And speaking of nearest exits…  I recently left the State of Colorado to become the Chief Technology Officer for IQNavigator in Denver.  It’s a very exciting opportunity and I can’t wait to blog about it!

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

and next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

T.S. Eliot

Happy 2014!

a mostly well-informed, technically savvy, sometimes extroverted introvert

One Comment on “The Nearest Exit

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