IT Buyers Should Embrace Product Diversity

Opinion: As much as many people seem to hate it, having a wide variety of products to choose from is a good thing.

In my last column, I discussed my often complex positioning—or flip-flopping hypocrisy, as some might say—on some issues, especially those that deal with politics and technology. Before some of you out there in IT land start to get all righteous and smug about how you never flip-flop, you might want to take a look in the mirror. Actually, youre probably already looking in a mirror—or a pool of water—as you carry on a Gollum-like argument with yourself.

Thats right. Many of you seem to have similar issues with, ahem, nuanced positions, especially when it comes to the state of IT product markets. In fact, the messages Im hearing from IT buyers are getting so mixed that Im considering recommending some time on a good therapists couch.

I can hear IT buyers internal debate already: "Im so very worried about all these company mergers. Theyre eliminating choice and competition and creating monopolies. We need a good amount of choice and competition to control pricing and encourage innovation." Wait for it: "No, choice is bad. There are too many products out there. How am I expected to choose one from all these? I dont have that kind of time. And what if I choose the wrong one? I spit on choice. Give me one or two big vendors instead of all this competition."

People wont admit to having these conflicted feelings, of course. In fact, if you surveyed people, they would tell you that they are stalwart advocates for choice. But if you went to the work sites of these same people, youd see and hear that choice is something they dont always welcome. When it comes to IT, I think most buyers would say that competition is good but would secretly wish for as little choice as possible.

I truly understand this conflict. A large chunk of our time here at eWEEK Labs is spent tracking product categories, some of which are just way too big. I can sympathize with any IT person who has been told by management to come up with a list of potential products to meet a certain company need. The fewer the options, the easier your job is and the lower the odds are that a competitor is gaining advantage by using a product that is superior to the one you end up choosing.

But theres no getting around a simple fact: As much as many people seem to hate it, having a lot of choices is a good thing. And if you truly want to have the best products for your company, you should welcome this diversity.

From the most basic standpoint, a wide array of choices is good because it means there is lots of healthy competition. And, of course, where theres competition, there is lots of innovation as product vendors attempt to gain a competitive advantage.

Also, your business is unique and has unique product needs that cant be met by a big monopolized product that has been geared to the lowest common denominator. A large market of products in a particular category means that there is a much greater chance you can find a product that closely matches your companys specific needs and requirements.

Even the vendors should be happy when they are in a big, crowded market. Sure, they hate the competition and hate losing customers to other vendors. But at least its a thriving market with lots of customer interest and potential. Typically, once there are only a couple of vendors in a market, it means that the product category has become stagnant and commoditized, with little growth potential.

So, IT buyers, be glad when you are looking for a product with a lot of vendors and choices. It means you have a much better chance of getting a product that meets your needs and that might actually be good. Sure, in a crowded market, some vendors might get acquired along the way. But that can happen in any market, even those with small numbers of vendors, such as ERP.

And there are plenty of tools out there to help you narrow your choices—from colleagues and contacts in other companies to analyst firms to, of course, eWEEK Labs.

So, which is it? Will you give in to the lazy voice that whines about too many options, or do you smack it down and revel in diversity?

Some of you will hate to hear me say this, but: Its your choice.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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