As your business' reliance upon IT for competitive advantage grows and available solutions multiply, the task of matching solutions with business needs — and with one another — can become increasingly daunting. So think about the ways to find clothes with the most flattering fit. This strategy may be just what you need to optimize alignment of your IT investments with your business needs and goals.
When you shop for clothing, you basically have three options. You can buy items off the rack, you can have those items tailored to fit or you can have your clothing custom-made from scratch. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, expressed in terms of cost, time to delivery and comfort or accuracy of fit.
For the most consistently perfect fit, the custom-made approach may seem the best. However, for most of us, it's likely to be too expensive and time-consuming, given the multiple fittings usually required for each item. Similarly, wearing unaltered off-the-rack clothing may be the most expedient and economical alternative, but it almost guarantees fit and comfort levels that are inconsistent at best.
Ideally, most of us would like a combination of all three alternatives that provides the optimum balance of comfort, fit, economy, efficiency and effort. To achieve such a balance, we need to make considered decisions about every item of clothing we need.
Similarly, where IT for business is concerned, building a customized solution for every need is all but guaranteed to be too expensive, take too long to deliver and require too much support to make business sense. And simply buying and implementing off-the-rack solutions with little to no customization all but guarantees that those solutions will fall short of your organization's specific needs and goals.
Fortunately, vendors are increasingly shipping offerings that enable business and technology decision makers unprecedented flexibility and freedom of choice among "off-the-rack," "tailored-to-fit" and "custom-made" IT solutions. Some notable examples appear below (listed alphabetically):
BlueArc: This networked storage vendor's Mercury platform enables companies to build storage ecosystems tailored to fit current business needs and is easily scalable in response to changing demands. Mercury combines BlueArc-designed, purpose-built hardware and software to maximize both performance and interoperability with incumbent IT resources.
ContentWatch: This company's ContentProtect solutions provide comprehensive Web content filtering, security and reporting features, available either as software for premise-based servers or as integrated, easy-to-deploy appliances.
SugarCRM: This vendor leverages open-source technologies to deliver powerful, flexible and economical solutions for CRM and related functions, as premise-based software and as hosted services.
SYSPRO: This software provider offers a single suite of solutions for controlling the management and planning of all major business functions, delivered as individual task-specific modules. Users can "mix and match" these and combine them with industry-specific practices, templates and services to meet specific business needs.
As the above examples indicate, vendors are taking a variety of approaches to delivering offerings that can be tailored easily to specific business requirements and conditions. Such solutions attempt to provide the fit of custom-made solutions at cost and complexity levels closer to those of off-the-shelf alternatives.
There are numerous examples of this approach across all business IT solutions, and more will appear. Custom-built software and hardware solutions are unlikely to disappear completely. However, they are increasingly likely to be relegated to specific niches where they prove to be more cost-effective than combining and modifying off-the-shelf elements. And such niches are likely to become smaller, fewer and more difficult to cost-justify because the power and flexibility of off-the-shelf elements and the tailoring skills of vendors, resellers and integrators will continue to grow and improve.
To maximize both the utility and economy of every IT investment your business makes, you should begin with a careful assessment of your needs and goals as well as available IT knowledge and resources. Using that knowledge, evaluate relevant available alternatives and create a "short list" of candidate vendors and solutions. Make sure these support a sufficient range of functions, templates, best practices and options to enable the closest possible alignment with your business' specific needs, as assessed previously. Then, talk to the vendors, their partners, their customers and anyone else whose opinion you value and respect. This approach will help to ensure that whatever you buy will fit your business well and make it look its best.
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