Organisations rarely buy the IT products and services they really need. They buy what they think they need, based on best estimates and technical specs.
I just bought a new home computer. My requirements? Needed to be portable, fast enough to run pretty standard applications (we have a Pub in our village so I don’t need gaming, the kids aren’t getting anywhere near it, and I have another computer for work), compatible with a few Software-as-a-Service applications, not too expensive and reliable.
It’s 4 years since I last bought a home PC, so I was hoping things might be a little easier. Looking at a few websites, I soon found out that they hadn’t changed. In fact, it’s much worse – there is so much choice! I’m lucky in a way that I know what GHz, RAM, TB, HDD roughly mean, but I don’t really know how much of it I need. Does anybody, really? I did what I guess most people do, and asked a friend who knows way more than me. In fact I’m lucky, because at NetApp I have access to some of the cleverest IT people in the world. It helped a lot, but even then it was near impossible for us to translate my [very simple] requirements directly into criteria to base my impending purchase on. There’s so much choice! But seemingly very little differentiation. So, in the end, I filtered things down online, went for what I thought was ‘about right’, within what I thought was a sensible budget. I can’t run a Proof of Concept, so it had to come from a brand I felt I could trust. (Not Dell then*).
In the Enterprise world, I’m pretty sure most people buying massive IT end up following roughly the same approach. They want to spend as much time as possible on innovative ways to support their business, but end up comparing technical specifications to choose what to buy within the budget they have. Although they won’t generally admit it, it’s very very hard to translate complex business criteria into technical specifications. And vendor websites can all look very similar. So IT professionals work hard to understand the technology basics for their function, ask friends (analysts, peers, partners), filter things down (RFI’s, RFP’s, RFQ’s, etc), spec the ‘best’ they can afford within their budget, and generally use a time consuming Proof of Concept to decide which to buy in the end. And repeat 3 years later.
We have to find ways to change this. IT has to get closer to business requirements. And we vendors have to help defend IT against procurement ‘professionals’ driving everything towards technology commodities, which doesn’t help anyone. With the advent of Cloud services and more VC-backed start-ups proclaiming re-invention of IT, it’s only going to get worse. If we’re not careful, too much choice and deep technology debate is going to stifle innovation in IT departments completely. Just when the business is starting to understand the impact IT can bring.
Of course, there are no easy answers, but rather than comparing technical specs, it seems sensible to start by picking partners you trust. Those that can meet most of your needs in a given area or segment today, but are innovating to help you tomorrow. Not only in technology, but increasingly in business models - organisations expect vendors to work together to help them, hence the rise in Converged Infrastructure spend, Cloud and Open Source communities. That way, the limited time you do have can be spent on taking a few more innovation ‘risks’ to increase the impact of technology on your business. Marginally differentiated hardware specs are never going to do that.
If you’re interested, I ended up buying a Toshiba Satellite C55-A-1UC 15.6-inch Laptop (Intel Core i3-4000M 2.4 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD, Windows 8.1) – Silver from Amazon for £399.99. I think that’s what I need, but am still not so sure. Unlikely it will make me any more innovative.
*I spent £49 on a Dell printer 4 years ago and £26,750 on ink since.