Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Matter Of Life And Death

A former coworker and good friend of mine and I were having a debate just the other day about Google and it's practice of simply discontinuing products. The question is whether this practice makes Google less appealing to the corporate world which values maturity and reliability in its suppliers.

Anyone who has led the evaluation of a solution will tell you the list of criteria usually includes a number of measures of the potential longevity of the vendor and products. How long have they been in business and how long has the product been around? What is the number of current installations? How large is the support organization? How large and stable is the company? No one wants to choose a product or service that may disappear before the implementation is complete.

So what happens when the product or service around which you have constructed some critical production system goes belly up? What if your approach to CRM was to leverage Buzz? What if you adopted Knol as your internal platform for a knowledge base? These tools are being removed from the marketplace leaving you holding the bag.

First, it is important to keep it all in perspective. Almost any product can suddenly become obsolete or be withdrawn from the market. We live in interesting times, as the old Chinese proverb suggests, when even the greatest of companies can suddenly crumble and disappear. There are no guarantees in life.

That said, one would nor should ever choose a foundation that cannot bear the weight of the structure it must support. By this I mean, if the system you are about to embrace will be the life blood of your company, you may want to stick to the more tried and true, proven solutions and not take that novel, innovative approach, no matter how appealing. Any solution that is free, by definition, will not have a guaranteed future.

There is a reason the Oracle and SAPs of the world can command the obscene amount of money they charge for their products and services. I'm reminded of the old axiom no one ever got fired for buying IBM. It may not have been the lowest cost or most flexible solution but you knew it would be there and fully supported for a very long time.

We're seeing this extra level of concern in the area of cloud computing as well. A key provision in any contract must be a sound exit strategy. What do I do when I can no longer trust, access or afford the cloud based service? How do I get my data out and adjust my business process so I can support it with alternative technologies?

None of this, however, diminishes the value of Google or other leading, innovative solutions. Some of them have stood the test of time and will be more than acceptable to corporations large and small. Witness the recent decision by giant General Motors to transition to GMail and the Google Apps suite.

Embryonic services like Google Plus are new social outlets for connecting with customers and supporting brands. Whether they mushroom like Facebook and Twitter, or wither and fade like Ping and Friendster, it is still appropriate and important to explore and experiment. There is no way of knowing what new vehicle might just be that breakaway technology that sets you apart from the competition and puts you on top of the world.

Captain Joe

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