Whittling IT down

Best-of-breed or a one-stop-shop IT solution? It’s a debate that has been raging for decades in the enterprise IT space, but even now – in a highly consolidated vendor landscape – it’s a conversation that refuses to go away.

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By  Team ACN Published  June 3, 2007

|~|roundtable200x.jpg|~|Clockwise from top left: Roger El-Tawil; Mohamed Hamedi; Ian Cochrane; Ivan Kraemer.|~|Enterprise customers understand the business benefits that come from limiting the number of IT suppliers they work with. Has the technical supremacy that best-of-breed solutions claim to offer finally lost out to the need to reduce costs and complexity within enterprise IT? ACN chews the corporate IT cud with some major vendors in the Middle East market to find out more. Lining up to offer their views on this thorny topic are Roger El-Tawil, channel and marketing director at communications solutions vendor Avaya’s Middle East and North Africa operation; Mohamed Hamedi, CEO at Sphere Networks; Ivan Kraemer, regional sales and marketing director for HP ProCurve, and Ian Cochrane, the marketing manager at Citrix Middle East. While these are all strong companies in their own right, they also understand that interoperability, open standards and a best-of-breed approach in their specific solution areas are part and parcel of their success story to date. ACN: Does the number of suppliers that they use within their IT systems concern enterprise customers? Is this something that is addressed during your sales cycle? ROGER EL-TAWIL: In the enterprise space, customers need open technologies and open standards to support their business needs – as the organisation grows, open architectures are needed to grow quickly, select the best technology available, and integrate with other solution. Getting locked in with a single vendor can seriously harm a growing enterprise – an open, multi-vendor strategy is critical. MOHAMED HAMEDI: We have not seen an obstacle as such, but in general customers from a support perspective would always prefer a single source. From a technology point-of-view, customers are demanding standards support from their vendors, and getting to understand that no one single vendor can be the best at everything. IVAN KRAEMER: Yes, certainly all purchasing departments prefer to limit their number of suppliers but it is all about the right balance to get the best ROI and TCO. There is no such thing as a one-stop-shop vendor and, therefore, customers have to work with integrators who combine the best fit technology for the specific customer solution, if they don’t want to be dealing with multiple vendors. IAN COCHRANE: This is, and will continue to be, a concern for customers. They have to balance choosing what they think are best-of-breed products for their needs, which may involve having the complexity of managing a multitude of suppliers, against a compromise ‘one-for-all’ solution. This is where the value of independent analysts comes in. ACN: Does interoperability and integration remain an issue within the enterprise IT space, especially in the Middle East? RT: Interoperability is really only an issue with enterprises that have already gone down the single-vendor route because they feel the pain of that choice and ultimately adopt a multi-vendor strategy. MH: There is a strong trend among most vendors to move away from proprietary technology and adhere to standards such as those set by IEEE. This movement, I believe, is mainly driven by customers. The customer today is much more aware and educated about what they need and is less likely to be herded and locked in by the vendor. IK: This is a diminishing problem as standards are being driven by customer needs themselves and, therefore, today it is simply about ensuring the vendors they work with comply with standards. Good integrators would ensure the interoperability by virtue of their experience in providing such solutions. IC: At Citrix, we are fortunate that our customers don’t see this with the approach we take in our application delivery model.||**|||~|rttawil200x.jpg|~|El-Tawil: Customers need open technologies and open standards to support their business needs.|~|ACN: With the advent of increased interaction and linkage between front-end and back-end systems, do one-stop-shop suppliers make sense? RT: The concept of a one-stop shop is a myth because there is no single vendor that can provide all of the applications that a successful enterprise will need. MH: Absolutely not, many large and complex environments around the world use a variety of systems and solutions from many different vendors. The fact of the matter is that interoperability is easy for the vendor if they want it to be. Unfortunately, profit is the driver behind whatever a vendor proposes. IK: As there are no one-stop-shop vendors in existence, the only way customers can achieve a single supplier goal is through an integrator. The integrator will face the issue of multiple vendors but there is no way around it if they want to provide a complete IT solution to customers. IC: I have to say that this is where true added value resellers/integrators have their greatest added benefit. They can bring to their customers their experience on the most successful solutions they have experienced to meet particular customers’ requirements. I would say that customers have to choose their trusted advisor carefully. ACN: Where do the benefits of consolidating IT needs with one supplier end? When are the benefits of having ‘one throat to choke’ outweighed by the disadvantages of having ‘all your eggs in one basket’? RT: While consolidating with one supplier might seem like it makes life easier for an enterprise, the reality is that technology advances so rapidly that one supplier cannot have the scope and bandwidth to provide best-of-breed solutions and applications in all of the required areas. This is an approach that results in compromise and challenges for the business. MH: There are many risks in a single supplier, besides the obvious ones. One key one that has been highlighted in the news is security. By basing the whole security system on a single supplier, if that supplier has a vulnerability then your whole enterprise is comprised. It really goes back to nature – spreading the gene pool assures survival. Mother nature has been doing this for ages. IK: Again, there is no ‘one supplier’ type of vendor on earth today. Purchasing through a single integrator or multiple integrators is measured purely on the ability of the integrator. If you have a good integrator that can do it all then why look for multiple integrators? IC: This is a typical ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. Let’s split the ‘supplier’ into ‘supplier’ and ‘product vendor’. Like I said before, working with resellers and integrators can be very beneficial but you need to take the time to consider working with which one, or ones, will have the most positive effect on your business.||**|||~|rthamedi200x.jpg|~|Hamedi: Large vendors will continue to intimidate the customer.|~|ACN: Do you believe that the largest vendors are capable of wielding pressure on enterprises to consolidate their IT purchases and increase share of wallet? RT: We do see some bullying tactics at times by the larger vendors, but the vast majority of enterprises realise that they need the best solution for their business requirements and that guides their decision-making. MH: I think large multinationals use their weight to gain an unfair advantage, by indirectly intimidating the customer and spreading FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt – they can scare the customer into going with a single source. I believe this tactic has been successfully used in the Middle East and less so in Europe and America. The tactic relies on the customer’s lack of knowledge and fear of failure – the attitude of having a scapegoat in case things go bad. IK: It could be possible only in respect to some customers, and specific to their specific requirements at that one point in time. Over the period of the IT lifecycle, the requirements are too varied for one vendor to handle and, therefore, wield pressure. Consolidation and share of wallet can play a role, which can benefit or backfire if a vendor is perceived as using these tactics, and should be managed really carefully with both sides’ ROI in mind. IC: It is not just the largest IT vendors that are driving the consolidation message. If we include IT simplification and flexibility, we find that customers themselves are key drivers here, as they need to have IT supporting their business competitiveness and not just being a cost centre. Importantly, it’s not just vendor and supplier consolidation that is important today, but the whole principle of IT consolidation. ACN: How important is it for the industry to have choice in terms of supplier selection? RT: Of course choice is important for customers and there is every flavour and variety of technology now available throughout the MENA region. The differentiator between vendors then becomes industry knowledge, experience in the region, and the ability to implement and train staff on the solution. MH: It is absolutely critical that there are choices. Choices bring about healthy competition, improved service and technology, and most important of all, it gives customer an alternative, which is vital. The vendors would also benefit by always needing to innovate and not be complacent, making an even playing fields, so companies that succeed do so on their merits. IK: Choice and flexibility are key to the survival of innovation in IT. Without competition there would be no choice and this would limit the capacity of customers to drive innovative technologies that benefit their business needs. This would result in them having a limited capacity to grow, diversify etc. It is very, very, very important to have choice! IC: This is the easiest question we’ve had so far. Choice equals competition equals innovation equals best solutions equals quality. Without choice we have the gruel from Oliver Twist for breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. And obviously cost is a major benefit as far as this is cocerned.||**|||~|rtkraemer200x.jpg|~|Kraemer: During the lifecycle the requirements are too varied for one vendor to handle.|~|ACN: What are the unique business benefits that your systems and solutions offer? RT: Avaya is the company driving intelligent communications for businesses in the Middle East, and we are finding that customers are incredibly receptive to the mobility and productivity story that we have here. What is also convincing for enterprises are our fantastic customer references from a number of industries and markets in the region. MH: Sphere Networks’ mission is to provide a real and viable alternative to meet networking management needs. At Sphere Networks we want to give control back to the administrator, by providing a flexible, extendable solution with an unmatched ease of use and time to functionality. At the start it was not easy, but when our customers saw and touched our product they easily realised the immediate benefit of our solutions. In the past, enterprises either paid an arm and a leg for bloated, legacy solutions that required a PhD to use, or suffered without a solution. Today, we have taken that pain away. IK: The main advantages cannot be unique. We supply standards driven products which are tested for interoperability and integration with our own products and technologies as well as others. There are some key features like reliability, support, performance and built-in innovations, which do not affect interoperability. This differentiates our products. IC: We offer IT simplification, security, flexibility, agility, performance and mobility. Once customers understand what Citrix can really do for them, they quickly buy into the offer. Citrix is unique in that it looks from the perspective of application delivery, so communication is very important. ACN: How important is stressing interoperability in your sales cycle? How much time and effort does your company make to ensure that you have strong and purposeful vendor alliances in place? RT: Avaya considers interoperability and open architecture as core to our business – our solutions run on any network and that is vital for our customers. We work closely with all of the networking vendors as well as providers of mobility devices and software to ensure that enterprise customers have an open systems environment that can grow with them and support their business needs. MH: Our Arena architecture was designed from the ground up to provide full multi-vendor support. So regardless of the infrastructure our clients use, we provide them with a complete and accurate picture. We build strong relationships with all the vendors, and we work closely with them to so that they can provide us with technical details. IK: It is extremely important. We stress ‘standards’ all the time and certainly are proud to show our vendor alliances in the industry with like-minded companies. It is all about communication, and a common language of IP is developing which envelopes every facet of society today. Without standards you are going nowhere or are maybe going to a very lonely place. IC: Interoperability is fundamental to the sales cycle and our business solutions. We deliver applications. Because of this, we have the most excellent relationships, at the business and technology levels, with applications vendors. Key to their willingness in partnering with Citrix is that we also add value to them by bringing the best application access to our joint customers. Vendor alliances are one of our primary focuses.||**|||~|rtcochrane200x.jpg|~|Cochrane: Without choice, companies have the gruel from Oliver Twist for breakfast, lunch and dinner.|~|ACN: How much time and effort do you put in to the development of your relationships with CIOs and IT buyers in the Middle East? RT: Today we are looking at intelligent communication and business transformation – so the discussion with CIOs is around issues like customer service and better productivity and the impact that these have on cost as well as revenue. Avaya’s level of engagement has gone way beyond technical debates to more business-focused consultancy. MH: Our strategy is to really be transparent and win the heart and minds in every layer of an organisation. Customers really see us as the aspirin for their networking headache. As an emerging company with strive to maintain a human touch to our relationships with our clients and partners. So we work with them very closely on understanding their requirements, deployment, customisation of the solution and even get them to be involved in future product development. This kind of relationship is unique in the region – that took our customers a little by surprise. IK: I am afraid that more time should be put into exactly these relationships but many customers feel more secure in a legacy systems world and revert to it more often than not. Security is a big issue and some see standards as opening the door to security issues, as opposed to legacy or proprietary being more secure. To a certain extent this is true but that is only because they are half in and half out. Going fully standard with the right solutions and technology can offer the open communication needed to do business today but also offer the very highest levels of security. IC: The appropriate relationships with all parties within the customer is a must, and no more so than at the executive level. For each person at our customer, who has an impact on the value that Citrix brings, there are specific benefits. Our job is to help explain these particular values. Dependent on the roles, these benefits might be technical, features, financial, business and so on. From our side, customers do understand the value we bring and that is why our business is extremely strong and growing. ACN: Is the ‘one-stop-shop vs. best-of-breed solution’ an outdated debate given the recent advances in IT interoperability? RT: As long as there are vendors positioning themselves as one-stop-shops the debate will continue – as enterprises need to know their options and how to both prevent being locked into a proprietary technology and how to create an open environment to grow their business. MH: I think large vendors will always continue to intimidate the customer into a dangerous monopoly situation. I believe that the customer is going to become much better educated and far more demanding. As far as I can see, the customer has a plethora of options available so why would they restrict their options? IK: It is unrealistic and out of date. Customers have spoken! They want choice and flexibility along with interoperability. This is achieved via ‘standards’. That is the future and how the short and long term is developing. IC: I think this debate will continue even after today. What customers have come to realise is that best-of-breed solutions do not necessarily have to come from any particular vendor. In reality, the model is now of the one-stop-shop integrator/reseller delivering proven and integrated best-of-breed solutions, delivering the best value at the best price to their customers.||**||

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