David and Goliath - who are you betting on? |

A classic dilemma for an IT professional tasked with sourcing and procuring products and services for their company is: “do I play ‘safe’ or go with what looks the best solution, regardless of the provider?”.

Put another way, this is often a vendor case of David versus Goliath; the latter being the ‘safe bet’ with the former being the best-looking technology provider for the job in hand. Of course, there are circumstances in which the safe bet is also the best fit as a product or service, but often this is not the case. And, in reality, there is no such thing as a safe bet. Going back to the old saying, with a twist: I do know someone who got sacked for buying IBM…

The problem for those looking to select the best fit of product, regardless of company size, is that in this world of IT consolidation (AKA vendors hedging their bets as they are uncertain as to who the winners are going to be) there are seemingly ever larger Goliaths and – as a result – fewer Davids to choose from. Within the service management world, the latest example of this is the announcement that Ivanti is acquiring Cherwell Software. From a Cherwell customer perspective, is this a good thing? Only time will tell, but if a Cherwell customer wasn’t already an Ivanti customer, it is hard to see why there would be any benefits to such an acquisition from their perspective. The IT world is littered with failed and badly conceived acquisitions, regardless of the millions or even – and in many cases – billions spent.

From a customer perspective, one potential issue is defocus – the new owner often wants to take its latest prize purchase in a totally different direction to that the old customers would want. Or it simply strips away the technology it doesn’t want and holds onto simply what elements fit its future plans. Often, and within a terrifyingly short space of time, an entire product line can be ’end of lifed’ by the acquiring party, if it is deemed to be a bad fit, or the parent company heads off in a new technology direction. Or, as often happens, the parent company itself gets acquired and the new, new owner further defocuses from the strategy of the original, independent vendor who is now third in line.

Regardless of acquisition or not, the smaller vendor typically has a more focused product and strategy roadmap, for the simple reason that its focus is limited by size and scope/skillsets. For the customer who has bought into this way of thinking and the software behind it, this is generally a good thing; two minds thinking as one. Moreover, that customer is far more likely to have at least some level of influence on the direction of its solution provider, compared with dealing with a Goliath. Small to medium sized technology companies typically rely at least partially on their customer base to help drive the direction of their future development. After all, there is no point in second guessing what their customer base needs and then delivering something the customer doesn’t actually want…

Customisation is another directly related area to consider; often a customer will have in-house or third-party applications and data sources that they need integration assistance with. A ‘David’ level company is far more likely to be interested in providing value-added assistance here than a ‘Goliath’ company for which such a one-off instance makes no economic sense. From the vendor angle, it might even form part of the next release of the product, where there is likely to be broader appeal than as a one-off enhancement, so everyone benefits. There’s also the issue of cost – smaller vendors generally need to be more competitive than their bigger rivals, so the customer will often get a lot more for their hard-bargained budget, as well as that more customised fit to their personal requirements. Win-win in other words – a more tightly aligned solution for a smaller slicer of the budget pie.

So – David versus Goliath… It certainly might not always be the case but, in many instances David will be the more approachable of the two, a better bet for a long-term relationship and the cheaper date!