Author Name: Sumeet Anand and SM Nafay Kumail ------------------------------------------------------------
Selecting the right technology and solution provider is a critical factor for every IT-enabled enterprise initiative. It is generally agreed by analysts, users and experts that an IT solution should always be selected based on a holistic comparison rather than comparison of features alone. It becomes even more important to ensure that such a solution is in line with the objectives and interest of a customer when we are dealing with the space largely represented as Enterprise 2.0 and has a complex vendor mixtraditional ECM vendors, relatively newer Web/Enterprise 2.0 type vendors, and open source stack based product vendors.
Analysis of the Current Scenario
As the Enterprise 2.0 is becoming a crowded space, it is important to understand the current situation in terms of what various players are doing and key trends that are emerging:
Some vendors have proprietary technology components while others have open standards;
Most of these, especially the traditional vendors have limited flexibility and customization is expensive and complex. Changes and customization which is needed due to dynamic business situation could compromise on stability of system and its effectiveness. They rarely have contemporary platform capabilities to build and evolve intelligent applications that support complete interoperability;
The current solutions are mostly features based propositions. The feature-richness becomes the focus instead of alignment with relevance to specific needs of an enterprise and work reality;
Despite the fact that cloud computing is catching up, it is yet to become a generally accepted standard. Clearly, there are some players who have on-premise offerings while others are restrictively from cloud;
Most of these are relatively expensive solutions and can pose challenges when scaling up because considerable cost is involved in the process; and,
Most of these solutions follow old architectures and paradigms with limited or no semantic capabilities and innovation for higher relevance to an enterprise. This may not be compliant with evolving global data interoperability standards and paradigms such as big data, open data, and linked data etc.
Key Aspects of a Holistic Evaluation
For a holistic evaluation it is important to not just focus on technology aspect but get into the details of its architecture and go deeper into the issues of whether offered features really solve the problems and if the technology is scalable and secure and that people would find it usable and useful as much as it will be easy to integrate with an organizations existing and extended technologies and integrate without hassles. Similarly, it doesnt end with buying a technology; it is important to understand the deployment, engagement model and services to ensure that the solution is complete in itself and develops mutual trust and relationships to solve real problems technology.
Architecture: It is the architecture that determines the performance, scalability and cost of implementing a technology. Customers hence must look at what is under the hood of any software product, the architectural principles it follows and the complexities therein. Propriety based technologies often lack the flexibility of dynamic situations todays customers are faced with. Software based on open source stack and standards with zero propriety technology is the answer.
Features: Most cotemporary technologies focus on the richness of their features. It is a known fact that the amount of features doesnt matter when it comes to solving problems. What matters is fitment to requirements, amount of customization required and willingness of a vendor to customize the tool and also maintain those customizations. A more desirable solution must be the one that meets most of your requirements out-of-the-box or with minimal customizations and must involve very low cost and complexity for incorporating customizations.
Scalability: Scalability of solution is the prime concern today. Customers must evaluate the time, cost and complexity involved in scaling up a software implementation as inability to do so can undermine the entire investment in the long run. We should take account into not just the money we spend but also the time and effort required to scale up when the need arises.
Codebase: Most technologies of the day are an outcome of more than a decade of evolution of products. This obviously leads to integration of multiple solution components to create an integrated solution. Each product follows its own release roadmap and thus becomes a barrier to future changes. Integration of multiple codebases (components) reduces the performance of application, increases maintenance costs and leads to compromising on usability. Poor usability leads to poor adoption and failure of change management. Hence, it is important to consider this aspect of technology before going in for a particular solution.
Compliance to Contemporary Standards: The legacy applications are often rigid due to being old in architecture and design. When investing in a technology customers must evaluate the technology standards followed and how contemporary and how future-proof these standards are.
UI & Usability: Usability is the key to adoption by users. A feature-rich application that makes usage difficult due to technology issues like integration of multiple components with rigid architectures and limited ability to customize reduces the usability of the solution. Poor adoption is one of the main reasons why many such initiatives fail to yield expected results. Right solution must provide flexibility to modify UI and interaction model based on specific needs of the context in which the solution is applied.
Integration: Ability to integrate to existing applications and data repositories helps in leveraging previous investments and reduces cost of switching. While going for a solution, it is critical to evaluate whether the proposed technology offers out of box integration and custom integration at manageable costs.
Real-time Collaboration and Content Management: In todays era of real-time communication and collaboration, it is an imperative that solution offers real-time content management. This is a key criterion for evaluation as it can lead to major enhancement in knowledge, responsiveness, and productivity. The lack of it could lead to further silos which need to be broken to ensure seamless communication and knowledge exchanges.
Semantic and Common Tags: Given that we are investing in 2010 when technology is moving towards a semantic world, we must have semantic capabilities and foundation in the solution we choose. The solution must allow keeping a common set of semantic tags for content to avoid duplicity and have more intelligent organization of the content in an organization.
Platform Capabilities: We not only need a tool or software but a platform that allows us to build relevance and usage out-of-the-box as a best practice application. It should also provide the capability to extend and evolve it with more relevant features and functionalities by allowing to deploy custom applications.
Access Control: Security is the biggest concern in using social computing tools inside an enterprise. The technology must provide an advance support for data object level access control out-of-the-box. Moreover, we should look at a future where we may use the same platform for collaboration in our larger ecosystem of customers, partners and other stakeholders with authorization based secure access from the same back-end storage system but different extranet microsites.
Deployment, Service and Support
Deployment Model: It is important to consider the way a certain product is deployed and delivered like on premise, Cloud, and SaaS etc. This has a direct relation to our security, cost, support and customization concerns. Organizations must evaluate what is the best way and not just go with rigid frameworks offered by a solution. What may work is a hybrid model that is on-premise, is customizable and yet priced and supported like SaaS.
Time to Implementation: Despite claims by various technology products, the time to implement and seamless integration remains a challenge. How soon a particular technology, once purchased, can be configured and rolled out to the enterprise defines the Time to Implementation (T2I). The lesser the time, the lesser will be the cost and higher benefit and competitive advantage.
Customization Support: No solution can meet the specific requirements of an enterprise without a bit of customization. The openness of a vendor to do so and the related cost makes a lot of difference. A dependable relationship rather than the brand of vendor should be the criterion.
Consulting and Implementation Services: With a decade plus of experience of implementing technology solution, real success depends on change management which becomes difficult or easier based on right selection of technology. Supporting services from the provider help in overcoming these implementation challenges. The buyers of such solution must ensure that this is taken care of at the very outset.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): Software is a recurring cost. Besides the direct cost of licenses, a much larger amount goes into the related costs in terms of additional hardware/software, migration, integration and cost of ongoing service support for bug fixing, patches, customizations, content services etc. Calculating the TCO over a period of at least 3 years is a more reliable basis to estimate the total cost.
We can safely conclude that, in the changing environment of technology and business, it is very important to not only look at a technology solution from the perspective of its features and brand of the provider but consider the entire gamut of issues related to technology, deployment, scalability, security of the product and engagement model that a provider offers. Without these considerations, you cannot be sure if you made the right choice and if your initiative is going to succeed.