The key to avoiding vendor lock-in

by Leonard Hayes

Technological change is nothing new in essential industries – we’re used to dealing with it, whether it’s prompted by new government policies, stricter regulation, or technical innovations such as smart metering.

Historically, though, most IT-related change has occurred at a reasonably predictable pace. You could be reasonably sure that a new or upgraded billing or asset management system would last a full regulatory cycle of five to eight years, without becoming dramatically outdated in that time.

The case with mobile technology is different. The evolution of mobile devices and platforms is being driven by consumers, not by businesses, and the results are twofold.

First, the rate of change is dramatically faster – not just in the devices, operating systems and applications, but also in the market itself. The rapid rise of Apple and Google as mobile vendors and the equally dramatic decline of RIM and Nokia are clear evidence of the volatility that continues to dominate the mobile sector.

Second, catering primarily for a consumer market means that mobile manufacturers tend to invest more in eye-catching new features and slick user interfaces than in belt-and-braces areas such as standardisation and backwards compatibility.

Obsolescence is not just a by-product of mobile technology – it’s a deliberate feature, essential to a business model based on consumers regularly buying new devices and the latest apps.

For companies in essential industries, the speed and unpredictability of change can be daunting. Everyone sees the advantages of successful mobile deployments, especially for asset management in the field – but how to build a sufficiently future-proof solution is an open question.

What makes it even harder is that software vendors don’t always advocate the right approach. “Buy our mobile solution,” your ERP vendor says. “We can handle the whole thing from end to end.” And it’s a seductive offer because it seems like such an easy option.

The problem, though, with adopting a proprietary solution, is that vendors are no better at predicting what’s going to happen next in the mobile market than you are. And once you’re locked into a monolithic solution, reacting quickly to emerging opportunities becomes that much harder. The speed at which mobile technology is evolving means that the risk-to-reward ratio of an all-in-one, single-vendor solution is just too high.

It’s a much better idea to take a more flexible approach, where each aspect of mobile management is treated as a discrete component that can be swapped in or out of the overall solution depending on the current needs of the business.

Many aspects of mobile technology are already mature and well-defined enough to make this a viable option. Mobile device management (MDM), mobile application management (MAM) and mobile development toolkits can all be selected on a best-of-breed basis and integrated into an effective mobile deployment, without sacrificing flexibility.

In dealing with a volatile mobile market that never looks back, you need to be free to make changes on your own terms, not your vendors’. If you don’t want to let them lock you in, a component-based approach is the key.


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