Whats the Actual Cost of Control?

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-03-24 Print this article Print

Coffee: People might hate to give up control, but keeping expertise in-house can be far more expensive.

Ive got to stop wearing my red vest to Frys. Going there from church on a Sunday morning, it compounds the effect of shirt and tie to practically scream, "I work here!" I wind up doing tech support in the aisles.

On a recent Sunday, someone was telling me, "I need to show video during conference calls. What do I need?" We were in the hard disk section. He appeared to think that his problem was choosing between FireWire or USB 2.0 disks for additional space. "My Presarios drive is full," he explained.

We talked about the need for a high-bandwidth connection and about the difference between streaming and other forms of distribution, and then I tried to segue into the possibility that he didnt really want to build a video server farm. I asked him, "Do you do this all day, every day?" No, he does not. But he could wind up hugely overinvested in a system that meets a peak load, a few times a month, while putting him into a new business where he clearly doesnt have market leader expertise.

If you need to get a document to someone at the other end of the country, overnight, you dont buy a plane and learn to fly. You dont even get in your car with a map and a thermos of Starbucks finest. You call someone and tell them what you need—or better yet, call several someones and get competitive bids.

Its ironic, then, that weve started to use the label of "Web services" to describe not the hiring of expertise but Yet Another Way to Do It Ourselves. People talk about Web services hanging out electronic shingles, so to speak, offering their capabilities to all corners and even bidding for their business, but security cant yet be assured—and trust is an even bigger issue. And yet, what that Frys shopper really needed wasnt a box of electronics, or even a few thousand lines of source code, but a contract with a service provider.

Learning to think in terms of buying services may be like getting Californians to use mass transit. People hate to give up control—but that control has to be weighed against real costs.

Try this: Demand that every IT project proposal include a service-based alternative. The crossover point is out there, but you have to be looking to find it.

Tell me whos not at your service at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

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Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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