Technology moves at a breakneck pace. New standards pop up, old technologies lose support, novel threats are revealed, and the wheel just turns and turns. Nothing has really changed with the pattern, but it feels like it’s moving faster than ever before.
Things are changing at the same individual rate, but there are more things changing to account for. You used to only need to worry about the basics like networking, servers, and workstations (or similar), now you need to fight the choice between software suites, hosting types, security suites, advanced networking capabilities, etc. The choices have gotten endless for each one, and very rarely is there a clear-cut case of objectively better once you hit a certain minimum. Salespeople have no qualms embellishing claims and the spec sheets may not always be apples to apples for comparisons among similar suites.
Technology comparisons can get downright onerous if you don’t know how to find the right resources to make sense of claims and features. Billing gets even crazier unless you have the market to pull special treatment. It’s the difference between a flat $0.50 an endpoint per month, and a billing scheme with unclear tiers, fixed and/or variable fees, or even variable price per month. When looking at technology we look at what they promise, what they can show, and how it fits the model for our clients.
What Does It Promise?
What features does an offering have and what claims do they make? The adage of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” usually holds true here. But, sometimes you get pricing by buying in early, as a way to expand business, or even as part of a partnership. Striking one of these deals can make your offering that much more amazing if you know how to negotiate a new promise out of the sales team. Pricing may not be the first thing you figure out, but it is one of the biggest deal breakers for a promise.
What have you been promised it can do? This can even be spec sheets and “raw data”. How well does it actually work out? If you can’t easily weigh the individual promise, how well have they held up their previous promises? Don’t look too far if the company has been through substantial change unless you want to be extremely cautious. If the entire C-suite and management was completely changed out and it’s been a few years with the new management, you may want to just look at the promises in that period. Don’t look too far if their track record is bad either.
AI excites me but also scares the bejesus out of me. Promises get a lot vaguer with Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI and ML are computing black boxes. You have an input and (ideally) an output that fits what you want, but you have no real insight into how the process works. The people making it can understand what they’ve put in, but the actual process is still a mystery.
You have to know how to make sense of their promises and claims for them to mean anything. How many promises are vague and loaded with empty marketing speak and how many can actually be quantified? Buzzwords are fine if they actually mean something contextually, but they’re less than useless otherwise. How many of the promises make sense? Now, how can you turn their promises into something verifiable?
What Has It Shown?
Where does it stand in comparison to its competition? What rates is this measured from and who sponsored the research? What have they shown they can do consistently well? Are there features which stand out which you can actually benefit from? Look at what they have shown they can do for you.
Even if something is possible to do, it doesn’t mean it’s practical. That cheap consumer router may say it works great for a business and someone used it for a day when their expensive equipment went down, but does that mean it’s shown anything useful if you’re buying for business? I’ve been in that spot, and they usually work for a day or two at a larger place before having to be continuously rebooted. There’s a reason a commercial or enterprise router costs more and works better in a commercial setting; it’s made to do so. You have to know how to apply the same filters for promises or else you get sold on a different bill of goods.
Benchmark the results you get. What can they show you they can actually do and how can you measure the data? A product might work great in a virtualized environment, but how does it work on real life hardware? You have to put the promises you can actually show into the context of how it fits you and your business needs. If you know what to look for, you might get in on something exceptional which is just marketed poorly, or avoid the inverse.
How Does It Fit?
A great product targeted at a different market may not be a great (or even good) fit. Your business continues to change (just like the businesses we support). What do you need and who is the product targeting? If you’re a Managed Service Provider (MSP), you’ll probably have multiple clients in multiple industries. How do you find the common denominator that can get you better pricing while satisfying all of their needs?
A product is going to have an associated cost. I keep coming back to cost, but cost is one of the most important factors for a product being a good fit or not. It doesn’t just matter what a client needs, it also matters what they can afford and are willing to spend. While a single service isn’t going to break the bank, 10 of them will. Technology continues to expand and more and more things become necessary to just run a business. You have to focus on the bigger picture which combines risk, need, desire, and support.
You have to take into account compliance, security, accessibility, maintainability, scalability, etc. and all of it costs money. While it’s not ideal, some businesses just don’t have the money to solve certain problems the best way possible. Other times, a certain technology may not have something financially accessible or practical which fits what the client is willing to do. You have to pick something which makes your life easier in some way as the IT professional as well, but sometimes that comes at a cost too, and that cost can be a deal-breaker.
Measure each factor and compare it to what you or the client need. If something really simplifies their business, it can be worth the extra cost, but you have to be able to show them. Clients will hold you accountable for your decisions to push a product, so you have to do your due diligence. Make sure it can deliver on its promises and can back up its claims. This helps you determine whether it’s the right fit, or if you need to go a different direction. Not every choice will be a home run, but if you focus on the right factors, you make informed decisions instead of blind gambles.
We use our ability to negotiate and our expertise to keep with and stay ahead of market trends. You may not always want to be the first early adopter, but you don’t want to be late to the party either. Where is the market going and how do you get ahead without getting lost?
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