Software customers, know your rights

The problem with adopting any suite of applications from a single vendor is that the decision to go with a suite means embracing a series of trade-offs. It's impossible for one vendor to be the best at all things.

The problem with adopting any suite of applications from a single vendor is that the decision to go with a suite means embracing a series of trade-offs. Simply put, because it's impossible for one vendor to be the best at all things, any suite of applications is likely to include elements that are second-rate compared to the best-of-breed application in any given category.

This means that the decision to go with a suite is usually dominated by two factors. First, one or two elements of the suite must actually live up to your company's expectations. Unfortunately, this means living with other potentially inferior elements of the suite. Second, given that all the applications in the suite come from the same vendor, they are usually better integrated with one another. Because integration and installation account for 90% of the cost of enterprise software, it makes fiscal sense to go with a suite from a single vendor.

But time and technology march on, and what made perfect sense yesterday may not today or tomorrow. With the advent of web services, the cost of integrating software will continue to decline because much of that work with be done through standardised protocols. This means that although it still makes sense to have as many best-of-breed applications as possible from a single vendor, the need to accept substandard applications will markedly diminish. This is because a lot of the hurdles associated with integrating disparate applications are going to be markedly reduced.

Although web services are not a panacea for integration, they create an opportunity for some enterprise application de-evolution. They also make it easier for you to play software vendors off of one another rather than being completely locked into a proprietary set of integration interfaces.

All this will eventually manifest itself during the next five years -- unless you decide to act today. The truth is that most enterprise software vendors will take their time embracing web services unless customers demand that vendors accelerate the timetables.

For many vendors, this will mean that they need to play a more active role in various industry standards bodies and devote more of their development resources. But don't let them act as if they are doing you a favour by engaging in this work. The fact is that integration among enterprise applications is a right, not a privilege to be bestowed by vendors when and if they see fit. You earned that right when you plunked down millions of dollars to acquire the right to use that software. For more on your basic rights as a customer, go to www.amrresearch.com, a research company composing a bill of rights for enterprise customers, which will include integration among applications.

If your vendor doesn't see application integration capabilities as a basic feature requirement, get rid of the company. A vendor's refusal to include standard integration means the vendor is not invested in your company's success, but in taking as much money as possible out of your corporate wallet. And in these times, nobody can afford corporate parasites no matter how often they play golf with members of the board of directors.

Vizard is editor in chief of Infoworld (US) and InfoWorld.com. Send email to Michael Vizard. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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