Can your vendor be too successful?

You may be getting pressure to join a particular tool's bandwagon. This year it could be Drupal, Sitecore, Jive, or Liferay. Next year it will certainly be a different set of names. Our industry is nothing if not faddish. When faced with the bandwagon effect, I encourage you to pause and consider all the angles.

You see, one of the more consistent findings of our technology evaluation research over the past decade is a bit of a paradox: the "hottest" (i.e., most popular at that time) vendors and open source projects are also the ones where customers experience some of the greatest heartburn.

There are many reasons for this:

  • Senior management at the vendor gets distracted, by media and speaking requests, analyst relations, raising money while they're still a hot commodity, or appeasing their incumbent VC overlords
  • Rapid expansion of their professional services arm and customer support staff leads them to hire people who don't know what their talking about, let alone know much about that platform
  • Their partner consulting channel gets similarly strained, overcommitted, and on aggregate, underexperienced
  • Your own internal staff who learn the platform's innards get recruited away by headhunters
  • Greater demands for feature innovations result in inconvenient architectural, administrative, and performance problems (c.f., SharePoint and most social tools)
  • Vendor or open source project leadership start believing their clippings and ignore warning signs (of things like performance) raised by longtime customers
  • Privately-held suppliers can experience cash-flow problems that further choke operations in absence of cash infusions, further distracting senior leadership
  • And so on

To be sure, you can see similar problems occur in a vendor experiencing the opposite -- a death spiral. Those are quite rare, but definitely painful. In the long term, a successful vendor should in theory figure out how to garner resources to address their growing pains.

That may be small comfort to you in the near term. Increasingly, our evaluations try to explain: what will life really be like working with this vendor and technology on Day One? It's not always an easy question to answer, but we keep at it, because you've told us that -- whatever your long-term ambitions -- you need to show results in months, not years.

Our evaluation research offers some specific advice about how to hedge your risks here. And we've found that cross-checks are a pretty good way of charting those risks across a marketplace. In the meantime, I welcome hearing your own stories.


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Gil, Partner, Cancentric Solutions Inc.
iStudio Canada Inc.

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