Every year at this time, Americans celebrate the decision the founders of their country made to declare their independence from England over issues like taxation without representation.
The Founding Fathers knew they owed a great deal to their colonial parent for getting them started, but now they were done asking to be treated with respect and ready to demand recognition as a new nation. Refusing to be cowed by the might of the British Empire, they raised their own army that converted farmers into soldiers and pioneered tactics of guerilla insurgency. And they won. Not easily or quickly or without help (thank you, Lafayette), but they won. No longer held back by a colonial power that didn’t fully understand the realities of the New World, Americans were free to build what became a great nation.
Romantic notions about the Revolutionary War probably explain a bit about why the computing industry that grew up in America is forever proclaiming 'revolutionary' advances. But to be truly revolutionary, shouldn’t a new technology or business strategy allow us to shake off the chains of some oppressor? In other word, there is a difference between being 'very significant' or even 'a really big deal' and being revolutionary.
Revolutionary thinking for IT
Here’s a revolutionary notion for IT management: it’s time to declare your independence from your vendor’s technology roadmap. If you say you have always charted your own course, good for you, but bear with me. Vendor technology plans have always been, by necessity, a large part of corporate IT planning, but I want to challenge you to think differently about them. You can acknowledge the legitimate contributions vendors have made toward your corporate IT infrastructure without letting them dictate its future.
Traditionally, the relationship between technology leaders and vendors when it comes to roadmap planning has been that of supplicant. Please, oh wise and powerful operating system, database and ERP leaders, reveal your technology roadmap so that we may plan accordingly.
I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of this exercise, and I’m sure many IT leaders do think critically about the technology roadmap information they receive. Yet those who do revolt against their vendors plans often pick a different vendor and begin following their roadmap.
That’s no longer good enough, if it ever was.
For one thing, it’s been a long time since anyone could get by with being an 'IBM shop' or picking any one vendor to function as the lodestar for IT plans. Even the era where a small group of preferred vendors could fill that role is fading rapidly. Your IT roadmap can’t simply be the sum of vendor roadmaps, with your own budgeting and staffing assumptions worked in around the edges.
Yet ERP vendors continue to try to make themselves the center of gravity. They consider it their divine right to impose taxes like high annual maintenance fees. Worse, in order to avoid being denied the support those fees are supposed to pay for, the enterprise must keep pace with a steady stream of upgrades and updates, regardless of whether that new software offers business benefits.
Support that revolves around the vendor’s requirements, rather than the customer’s needs, sounds like taxation without representation to me! Submitting to these dictates distorts your budget and where you can invest it. According to Gartner, 90% of the average IT budget is consumed by ongoing operations, leaving just 10% for innovation.
Declare your independence
Fortunately, a revolution is well under way. The cloud era has introduced an explosion of innovation in best-in-class apps that both add capability to the ERP core and encroach on its footprint. Entire categories of software like database are becoming commoditized. Hyperscale cloud platforms offer flexibility and ease of use at scale. Low code platforms enable development of modern, digital applications faster than ever before. The hybrid cloud, multi-cloud future is still coming into focus, but one thing that seems certain is that no one vendor will dominate it – almost by definition.
In response, we have seen ERP vendors protecting their position with tools like licensing audits, restrictions on application integration and denial of technical support to customers who do not follow the vendor’s prescribed upgrade path, either to a new software release or a vendor-controlled cloud.
I don’t think that’s a respectful way to treat customers, do you? So should you rebel? It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. On the other hand, it’s not as daring as pledging to (in Benjamin Franklin’s words) “hang together or else we will surely hang separately.”
My recommendation is that you seek out a technology partner who is willing to work with you on your own business-driven roadmap, rather than a roadmap that locks you in, leaving you feeling like an inferior colonist.
Take inspiration from John Hancock, who (at least according to legend) explained his large, bold signature atop the Declaration of Independence by saying King George “won’t have to put on his spectacles to read that!” Do it loud, do it proud, and take control.