This month's column was written by Jonathan Smith, business development manager at eTransX.
Perhaps you're familiar with FUD- not the "wabbit"-huntin' Elmer Fudd - but fear, uncertainty and doubt, the classic marketing strategy created and employed by top-tier vendors in effort to convince decision-makers that less costly solutions must be inferior. Surely there's a manual somewhere in big business that explains this practice in depth, but for the purposes of this column, consider the following:
FUD preys on emotion, not reason. Despite the fact that this tactic is well-known in today's marketplace, many decision-makers still succumb to their fears by awarding contracts to the largest brand-name vendor simply due to the "CYA" syndrome. These decision makers have been conditioned through the years to select the most well-known (read expensive) candidate simply because in the case of failure, they want to be able to say that "we chose the best out there." Is that really true?
FUD is everywhere! Even more perplexing, FUD is prevalent today with contracts granted to companies whose core competencies lie completely outside of the project at hand! For example, do the behemoth aerospace companies have any background expertise in deploying city-wide Wi-Fi networks? No, but they are getting the contracts because they are perceived as superior; their bid was double the price.
Another example of FUD in action occurred with a gentleman I know. He was having trouble selling an exotic sports car that was one of the very last off the line after many years of production. He tried, but couldn't sell it at market price, so he took the car to a prestigious dealer who marketed it under a strategy of exclusivity. The car sold the second day in the showroom. The perceived value was much higher because it was $40,000 more than closely comparable year models - it must be special.
Elements of FUD in Integration
You may be wondering how this applies to the current integration landscape. It has been mentioned by my peers many times in this column that confusion is widespread about what makes up a service-oriented architecture (SOA) or Web service. This is especially true in the case of the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) whose needs are relatively simple. FUD has resigned the SME to feel like they should just limp along with a rock in their shoe, instead of taking the perceived risk of integrating their applications and systems. Even large federal government agencies realized the harm of a FUD based intellectual monopoly and subsequently invested in SME research programs in part to help suppress this phenomenon. Some common misconceptions fueled by FUD include:
Buzzword Bingo. With the myriad of platforms available, many decision-makers are hesitant to take on integration simply because they are confused as to which strategy to deploy (EAI, EII, ETL, EDI, Web Services, BPEL, SOAP, etc.). It all boils down to this - integration is moving data elements from point A to point B with the necessary translation in between.
Here's a twist on the popular corporate time-passer: The next time you're participating in an integration Web seminar, jot down the buzzword acronyms into a matrix and play along. Be the first raise your hand and triumphantly yell - well, you know.
High Cost. Tier-one integration vendors have conditioned the market to believe that integration should cost millions of dollars and take years to implement. With today's offerings, this is simply no longer the case. There are many independent software vendors in the market that have developed comprehensive integration technologies that squelch this common misconception.
Fear of Failure. Historically, it has been reported that as many as half of all integration projects fail to meet initial ROI requirements. Consider this antiquated formula for integration, and it's easy to see why:
- Million-dollar software licenses
- Massive amounts of custom translation development
- Insufficient business process analysis and integration methodologies
- Lack of specialized client technical resources for post-implementation support
The FUD Factor Can Be Overtaken by Reason
Many companies, especially those considered to operate in the SME space, are living under this cloak of counterfactual perception. They are living with 'band-aids" over their perpetual wounds because they are not aware that there are solutions available that suit their needs, at a reasonable cost. The fact is that today, many vendors offer affordable and proven comprehensive toolsets that circumvent these perceived impediments to integration. Simply put, there are simpler solutions to these complex issues. If these comprehensive technologies support multiple integration architectures at much less cost, what's left to consider? When evaluating integration vendors, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this vendor comply with industry standard methodologies? Members of the Integration Consortium have recently collaborated in development of the global integration framework, a resource for simplifying application interoperability and streamlining integration using standards and best practices from actual integration solutions that solve real business problems.
Does this vendor make it possible to for me to perform future integrations on my own? Full-featured integration solutions exist that put the power of integration into the hands of the client. With these tools, even highly complex integrations can be implemented by an average IT administrator. Also, make sure that the vendor provides a certified training program as part of the offering.
Does this vendor offer affordable pricing? What if I don't need the full suite? In some cases, the client may not need the functionality of the entire software suite. In this case, ask for the availability of components-based pricing. Additionally, some vendors even offer financing options to the extent of transaction-based pricing models.
What should I ask for when reviewing the vendor's references and client base? Look for a good mix of large and small clients. Those with experience in dealing with federal government entities as well as commercial interests are a good indicator of credibility and stability. Get project details directly from their references; don't rely on white papers, case studies or salespeople. Speak to someone on the phone, and ask the tough questions.
How much of this vendor's revenue is generated by professional services? In marquee integration projects, it has been documented that the software license is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to total project cost. Be sure to ask about this when checking references.
Is there anyone out there that can guarantee my project's success? Some vendors will offer a "money-back guarantee" on the success of the integration. Terms vary widely on this, so read the agreement carefully.
What will it cost me if I hesitate to take advantage of these comprehensive solutions? With these proven technologies now made affordable to enterprises of almost any size, pressure to remain competitive is forcing prudent business leaders and IT managers to participate.
Jonathan Smith is business development manager at eTransX (www.etransx.com) and a member of the Integration Consortium. eTransX is a rapidly growing software and services company providing comprehensive solutions related to information technology for commercial and industrial enterprises as well as federal, state and local governments. eTransX specializes in enabling and facilitating enterprise application integration (EAI), providing Health Level 7 (HL7) messaging solutions to healthcare related enterprises, and integrated business intelligence (BI) executive dashboarding solutions. Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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