Sticky OSS viruses

Welcome those big, sticky, complicated problems. In them are your most powerful opportunities.”
Ralph Marston

In previous blogs such as, “The marriage analogy” and “If people like you,” I’ve spoken about the perils of vendor lock-in. But today, I’ve decided to play out the polar opposite perspective for the purpose of curiosity.

Please take a moment to think about these two questions:

  1. Which companies are the biggest, highest-profile OSS vendors / integrators on the planet?
  2. Is the same list also the most widely bemoaned by service providers for locking them into contracts that they can’t escape from?

From my experience collaborating with service providers across many countries, there is near-perfect alignment.

So this poses a question – Despite the negative connotations, is it the lock-in ploy that has helped take these vendors to the top of the pile or are there other factors at play?

It’s likely not THE factor, but it probably does have a part to play. So let’s have a deeper look.

Service providers often disparage these vendors as being the OSS equivalent to the varicella zoster virus, remaining in their system forever after being contracted (I’ve had a bout of shingles so I can attest to the pain caused!). There’s no doubt that some vendors do try nefarious means, but perhaps there are other reasons why they become so hard to remove?

It’s often the case that a service provider would love to rid themselves of a particular strain of OSS, but opt not to because it’s just too hard or too risky to do so. Other times it’s because the product in question is not as easily or completely replaceable as first thought. Alternatively, the vendor’s staff may have become an intrinsic part of the service provider’s operations. Replacing the vendor would mean replacing the resource with someone else and lose all the local knowledge that has been built up over years on the contract.

It seems to me that if you’re a vendor and are looking to replicate the special sauce that has made the biggest stand out, vendor lock-in should definitely be one priority – by creating irreplaceable products and employees (rather than the more insidious OSS zoster).

If you truly are irreplaceable, then you can charge a premium for your products / services like the big dogs do… until someone finds a way of replacing you.

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