Understanding storage technology can be difficult enough without vendors adding to the problem with odd product positioning. Yet vendors often make things worse when talking to customers or prospective customers.
I recently had conversations with two IT professionals that brought to light this issue. The first one was looking at backup software for an optimization project. The IT pro I talked to wondered why one vendor had two products with many common characteristics and if both would be continued. He was concerned that one product would be dropped or put into maintenance mode with no additional upgrades. The concern was justified because he intended the backup software to have a long usage period in the data center.
The salesman was not particularly enlightening about the vendor’s long-term plan, and no public information was available to clear up the situation. In this case, acquisitions had led to the two offerings. The vendor had different messages for each product and no message about the two in a combined plan. This reminded me of a Dilbert cartoon strip called “Battling Business Units” showing internally competing businesses that did not play together.
The second example involved the purchase of a disk storage system. In this case, several products were being considered to bring to a short list for final evaluation. One vendor had two products that might satisfy this customer’s needs, but there was much overlap between the two systems. This IT pro wondered how a vendor could continue both products. Investing in a storage system with training and operational procedures could be compromised if he bought the system that would eventually be dropped.
Again, acquisition had led to the vendor having two products and the messaging around positioning and continuation was not clear enough to remove the concern. Maybe it was another case of Battling Business Units. In any case, there was not enough coordination between the units to notice these obvious questions.
While working with IT in evaluations (see Evaluator Group for evaluation guides), I find that the type of information IT pros need from vendors is often missing or conflicting. This requires them to spend time on issues besides the product and the underlying technology.
Some vendors may embrace the Battling Business Units scenario and the internal competition it brings out with the philosophy that the best team will win. But it is not in the best interest of an IT customer making decisions.
By the way, Dilbert is not really a comic strip. It’s a documentary.
(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).