The dialectic of buyer & seller technology conversations

Dialectic – The tension or opposition between two interacting forces or elements

Technology vendors cannot resist telling industry analysts that they replaced their rivals (Documentum, IBM, SAP, etc.) at a new client. Rarely are those bold assertions true. In the vast majority of situations, the new vendor is now running alongside their rival. Rather than being replaced, their rival remains in place. Enterprises typically run multiple systems alongside one another. Though they sometimes ‘sunset’ a system by gradually winding down its use and relevance over time, they seldom ever rip and replace it. Buyers want to talk about, “How can you work in harmony with what I already have today?”. So it was refreshing at BoxWorks this week to hear the story of how Delta Airlines is still using Documentum. A system that has been in place for well over a decade, now running alongside relative newcomer Box. This caught the attention of analysts in the room, and questions flowed. Why? Because we seldom get the chance to break through the hyperbole of the rip and replace myth, and this was a golden opportunity.

The tension that arises between the aggressive sales and marketing efforts of software vendors and how that contrasts with the reality of the customer is not new. However, that tension is reaching a breaking point. There are few, if any, greenfield enterprise sites, most are brownfield sites. In other words, they already have something, if not multiple, somethings in place. Buyers already know what they are doing; they already have embedded and long-established processes and procedures. Albeit, systems, and processes they want to improve. What they want to know is how the new vendor can work in harmony with what they already have. But the problem goes deeper than the myths of rip and replace. Technology firms want to talk about how great, sophisticated, and clever their technology is. Buyers want to talk about how technology will practically resolve their real-world business problems.

Just recently, I was in London to speak and promote our bestselling book (Practical Artificial Intelligence) at Alfresco Day. This week I have been in San Francisco to talk about Blockchain at the BoxWorks event. Such events provide a perfect opportunity to take the pulse of the market. As such, I was fortunate to speak with many event attendees. Also, I was able to talk to other businesses and industry analyst peers unconnected with either vendor. As a side note, as you may imagine, a visit to London amid the madness of Brexit, and of course, the political madness here in the US makes for exciting conversations.

But the core of what I came away with, was the urgent need to normalize and sanitize the discussions around technology. There is a critical tension between what vendors versus buyers want to talk about. For as an industry, we continue to revel in showing off and expounding on how complex and challenging IT is. Buyers, on the other hand, don’t have any interest in understanding how, for example, the nodes in a Blockchain network are structured and distributed, or how AI algorithms get built. Instead, they need to know what technology does for them. As an industry, we need to normalize those conversations and find a level playing field. We need to focus on both the benefits and the drawbacks of using one approach over another. We need to keep it simple. 

After my keynote in London, one (expert AI) attendee told me that I hadn’t talked about AI at all. Everyone else I spoke with, without exception, said to me that this was one of the first times they had grasped the real value and drawbacks of AI in the Enterprise. We have had similar feedback and reviews for our book. The bottom line is, we try hard to keep it real at Deep Analysis. We cut through the hype, we synthesize the relevant from the irrelevant and try to communicate clearly. Surely this is something we all should do, though decades of doing the opposite mean it can be hard to flip the switch. Just this past year, we had back to back briefings with two similar AI vendors. The first rapidly devolved into a deep dive technical explanation of the inner workings of the product. The second was a lucid exposition on how customers use the AI to improve their business and augment existing systems. Guess which one is seeing more success in the marketplace? Similarly, Blockchain is being taught and marketed in easy to understand business terms in Asia and the Middle East. In contrast with the tech-centric discussions, we hear in North America. Again, guess which regions are leading the world in Blockchain?

We don’t believe in dumbing down the conversation. We believe in elevating it to a level that is relevant and actionable to a buyer. That is something every IT vendor should be actively striving to do. To give credit where it is due, both Box & Alfresco did just that at their events. But sadly, as of today, many others don’t even try.

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