Have you noticed lately that when it comes to software vendors everybody does everything? ERP vendors are selling data quality tools. Disk storage vendors offer data warehousing software. Big mainframe vendors have everything, including big mainframes. It’s a truism in IT that many companies end miles and miles away from where they begin.

I’m biased because I work for one of the little guys. My company has stayed relatively small, and that’s by design. We never wanted to be a big firm with a Big Firm Zeitgeist. We’ll never have a skyscraper with our name on it. We actually only have one physical office now since our consultants spend their time at client sites.  Our clients use us because we’ve delivered what they need to other companies like them.

The large enterprise application vendors now offer consulting services. Periodically we compete with big vendors who will give services away for free when they get the whiff of a large deal. They’ll come in and do an assessment, which usually results in the recommendation of—wait for it—their product. It’s good to be king.

This might sound like sour grapes, but it’s really just a wistful yearning for the days before the mega-vendor M&A swirl, when companies identified new requirements, researched a range of alternatives, including specialists in the niche, and chose a vendor based on how closely the solution met the need. In those days procurement managers didn’t insist on a copy of your financials before countersigning the MSA. A few of our newer consultants, former independents, tell of epic struggles with corporate contracts managers. “I was spending most of my time either having my lawyer review the contract or trying to collect on my invoice,” laments one.

As they gobble up smaller firms, big vendors spout the well-worn “too big to fail” and “one throat to choke” adages so comforting to beleaguered CIOs looking to streamline their contracts and purge unused software licenses. But it can also be the lazy way out. Who needs to vet software solutions against business requirements and standards when the incumbent vendor has a cubicle down the hallway? Why do a vendor bake-off when you can get your vendor’s product for free?

Enterprise app vendors with their buzzing sales forces and overflowing product lists are here to stay. But I’m watching some of the smaller niche players cut through the noise with targeted and differentiated offerings that solve business problems. I like Lyzasoft for collaborative BI; Cloud 9 Analytics for sales performance analysis in the cloud; Predixion Software for advanced analytics in the cloud; Talend for open source data integration; and Wherescape for nimble data warehouse deployment. Check these little guys out. But hurry, before they become the big guys.

Jill also blogs at JillDyche.com.

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