Quality Sets the Standard

Opinion: Recent mergers remind us that companies come and go, and that IT buyers should focus on quality and suitability rather than on a company's name.

For baseball lovers, this is hotstove season—with lots and lots of trades and free-agent signings that leave fans unsure of just which team their favorite players will end up on. And it seems as if baseballs hotstove season has spilled over to the technology world, leaving many IT buyers unsure of just which company owns their favorite enterprise software products.

In recent weeks, weve seen Oracle take over PeopleSoft, Symantec acquire Veritas, Siebel buy Edocs and 3Com gain award-winning security vendor TippingPoint. Just as seeing Pedro Martinez in a Mets uniform is causing some fans to worry about the future of the Red Sox, these technology deals are causing many IT executives to worry about the future of their IT investments and even their jobs.

I mean, talk about fear, uncertainty and doubt. In many cases, the product lines that were involved in these acquisitions cost at least six figures for companies deploying them. And in most of these acquisitions, the acquiring company has limited or no experience in the technology area that it has just purchased.

And now the IT executives who signed on to deploying these products have to endure questions and comments about their choices from other executives, who worry that a core IT investment could face big changes and be in danger of losing promised upgrades and support.

But is there anything these IT buyers could have done differently? Most of the companies that have recently changed hands were well-established and secure leaders in their markets. Think about it: If you were investigating companies a couple of years ago, would you have any reason to doubt that PeopleSoft would be around in 2005? It was a strong, well-positioned company, which is exactly what made it an attractive acquisition target.

Unfortunately, this is just one of the realities of the IT business. When you get down to it, outside of IBM, Intel and Microsoft, pretty much every technology company is a potential takeover target.

All of this brings me back to a column I wrote almost two years ago. At that time, I argued that excellence and quality should be the main factors in choosing a product, not whether the vendor was well-known and "safe." The problem is that the single biggest factor that drives almost all decisions in IT today is fear—fear of losing your job and fear of making a bad decision that will cost your company lots of money.

I completely accept that. As they say, being afraid lets you know that youre alive. But if were going to accept the fear, we should also accept the uncertainty and doubt (not that we have a choice).

Thats why I am going to once again argue that IT purchase decisions should be made with quality being the No. 1 criteria. There is no certainty in picking a big, established company—events have proved that these companies are just as susceptible to acquisition as small, unknown vendors. And there are plenty of examples of large companies with lousy support records and small companies that treat all their customers like kings.

Indeed, while there will always be fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the viability and future of almost any technology company, quality is usually a pretty solid indicator.

If you choose your products based on quality and suitability to your needs, then, even if ownership changes, you will have a product that is serving you well. And while software quality has a good chance of surviving even after an acquisition, one thing that is guaranteed to change is the company itself—which makes basing purchasing decisions solely on company statistics even less defensible.

Chances are that after these acquisitions, most of the customers involved will be OK. Oracle didnt purchase PeopleSoft to gut the latters products and alienate its customer base. Quite the opposite is true, and the same is probably true in all the other deals.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Oracles decision to buy PeopleSoft.

But these deals should be a wake-up call for all those who think they can purchase products based on company reputations over product quality. Because unless you plan to live by the old saying that "no one ever got fired for buying IBM," youre going to have to purchase products from multiple—and sometimes morphing—vendors.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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