Some years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a software technology bake-off. Technology selections or bake-offs go something like this, Dear Vendor, you have been selected to show your wares/skills at our esteemed company. No, you dont get paid for this privilege, but you have one week to complete the tasks in this envelope that you will perform on-site. And if you win, we are not sure what we are going to do anyway. So, dance vendor, dance!
OK, while I am being a bit tongue in cheek, it was exactly like this. I view bake-offs as the easy way out for CXOs that dont know what they are doing or dont want to do their homework themselves. In my experiences, it has been the former. Unfortunately, for the vendor, it is a very risky proposition to participate if the org does not understand what they are doing or getting involved in. At the time of this particular bake-off, it was all about Enterprise Application Integration
(EAI) even though Service Oriented Architecture
(SOA) principles applied, this buzzword had yet been invented. In other words, this org was a very early adopter of SOA and did not know it. This meant that Geoffrey Moores Technology Adoption Curve
is in full play here.
While I am going to name the technologies that were used in the bake-off, I do want to make clear that years later, I came to the conclusion that it did not really matter what technology was used. The reality is that any of the middleware products would have worked for this org. As an analogy, they were looking for a Cadillac solution and at the time thought BizTalk was an econobox and all they really needed was a bicycle. It has been my experience that this is the case for most orgs from a technology selection perspective.
Back to the story, but first a little background. The orgs CIO and his crew were hardcore Unix fans and therefore were horrified to find a Microsoft product (BizTalk) that had penetrated their domain. Our pro services shop was called in to perform a complicated workflow across a few applications related to one of their core business processes for a particular department which got us in under the radar. When we presented our prototype (live from our servers) in front of 30 some people, everyone seemed to be quite pleased. At that moment, the CIO stood up and said, dont too excited, as we have to go through a formal selection of which middleware technology our esteemed org will use. Just so you know, this was the beginning of the end for the CIO who was let go sometime later.
Yours truly got grilled by the CIO and Unix crew on more than one occasion as to why BizTalk. I was so naive. I dutifully and enthusiastically explained the features and benefits, blah, blah blah. It reminds me so much of the commercial that has a cardboard cutout of a salesman
that said, So, how much software would you like to buy? As a technical person playing a sales roll, I cant help feeling that way. However, I happened to be President of this pro services company and just bit the bullet all for the company right? Behind the scenes, the CIO flew in a top sales person from Vitria (their Unix fav) who sold a bunch of licenses to the org., even before the bake-off began. The other two players in the EAI selection were Tibco and WebMethods.
The funniest part of the bake-off, depending on who you ask, is when we opened the envelopes, we quickly realized that the third-party consulting company hired to develop the EAI tasks, did not know what EAI meant. The majority of the tasks were what was traditionally known as a data pump. That is to pump data from one database to another, sometimes indirectly through staging tables and/or file shares. The third-party company that did the spec did not know that the A in EAI stands for application not database integration.
Depending on who you speak to, maybe there was nothing funny at all. Take my business partner for example. As it turned out, I happened to be on vacation in the northern regions of Canada at the time (hey, its the North Pole
and got daily phone calls on how choked my partner was. Complicated further by the fact we were not getting as much local Microsoft support that we thought we were and since our business model was using independent contractors, we could not engage our regular crew cause this was not paying gig. Consequently, my partner had to pull double shifts for that week. The only other time I saw him this mad was when one of our business partners tried a hostile takeover behind our backs within the first three months of incorporation, but that is another story.
At the end of selection process, with lots of internal lobbying going on, it was a tie! I have never heard of such a thing in my 15 years in the biz. Totally hilar. And the way it was rationalized was that all Unix based projects would use Vitria and all MS based projects would use BizTalk (the company was already a 50/50 split between Unix and MS applications). Part of the inside joke here is that the whole point of a middleware product was to be programming language and platform agnostic and could integrate any disparate applications, which was lost on the CIO that called for the bake-off in the first place. Further, the independent third party consulting company that put together the bake-off tasks also happened to perform Vitria pro services and actually offered up their services. Isnt that a conflict of interest?
As it turns out, Vitria stayed on the shelf and over a dozen BizTalk projects were designed and constructed for the org with our pro services shop getting most of the work. A personal thank you to Bobby Keen!
I learned later that the org spent close to $2 million in the bake-off over a year time frame. I could not believe it, but after someone on the inside explained to me what all had happened and how many people were involved, I could see how it happened. The org could have saved themselves this money or have it put directly to actually solving business problems. So why dont they get it?
There was no joy of software on this one. Ultimately, none of us got it cause the orgs entire IT shop got dismantled as a large outsourcing org swooped down and took the business away from all of us. However, as mentioned earlier, Geoffrey Moores Technology Adoption Curve was in full effect here and I believe we all fell while Crossing the Chasm
. Subject of my next post.