How to Tell Whether an IT Vendor Sells 'Solutions' or Just Products
There's a subtle but important difference between IT products and IT solutions. Both have their rightful place, but buying a product when you need a solution--and vice versa--can be costly. Unfortunately, product-pushers aren't always easy to spot.
Fri, August 09, 2013
CIO — The IT industry goes through cycles when everyone wants to be a "solutions" vendor and comes up with bundles of stuff to sell and call a "solution." Bundles—particularly if they come with discounts—can be attractive, but mixing them up with the idea of a solution can leave customers buying the wrong thing and, worse, even further from fixing their real problems.
Let's take a moment to talk about solutions and how you might rank the solutions vendors that pitch you.
Real IT Solutions Solve Problems
Certain employees gain the reputation of being a problem solver. This is the human equivalent of a solutions vendor. These employees are hired to fix complex problems. (For a major chunk of my life, that's what I did.) Problem solvers tend to be generalists, not specialists; if they were specialists, then they're better known by their specialty.
What differentiates problem solvers is their ability to, well, start with the problem and then craft a solution, based on their broad experience, to actually fix it. You bring in a specialist, however, when you know what needs to be done but you need a specific skill set to do it. A problem solver might call in a specialist to fix a problem he has defined, while a specialist would call in a problem solver if she can't seem to get her arms around the problem.
You need a solutions vendor when you can define the problem but aren't sure about the fix. Dell showcased this approach a few months ago.
A customer was experiencing server performance issues. Had Dell approached this as a server specialist—and a typical hardware vendor—the company would have thrown new servers at the problem. Instead, Dell approached this problem as a solutions vendor. Analysis showed that the servers were fine, just improperly managed, so Dell provided software that made the problem go away. Adding new servers would have cost more money—and left the customer with servers that were even less effective.
(Now, had the customer discovered prior to calling Dell that it needed new servers and not management software, it could choose from best-of-breed product specialists to supply the necessary solution.)