Monday, April 04, 2016

The tale of two competing technology platforms inside an enterprise

The company (let’s call it A) was seeded in the era of client-server technologies and the inception of what became known as the standard for developing open systems. So naturally their technology foray included the technology stack that promised interoperability and ease of programming. Systems were developed in-house with a bunch of programmers working alongside the business, thus creating many fit for purpose solutions that helped scale up the business. Their growth story aided by their early focus on technology made them a player of reckoning.

One of their able competitors (why not B) started off with a few years decided to watch the results of A’s foray before taking a decision to invest. Years passed by and the turn of the millennium saw anxiety filled movement for compliance and then a drop in business triggered by dot-bust coupled with further slowdown due to terrorist activity. By the time B did get started taking nascent steps into the world of technology, a newer framework was gaining popularity as an alternative making a compelling case for adoption.

By now A was already reaping the benefits of an early start giving them resilience and efficiency that a good technology solution can provide. They broke into the top 10 by the time B was just about stabilizing technology solutions to move to fast track growth path. Both grew at a fast clip from there on though the gap kept growing with A enjoying the benefit of base effect. Each had created specific market differentiators as they competed head on and survived the arrival and exit of some major global competitors.

A decade later the market had changed; heavy investments in technology by some big companies and newer technology enabled startups and disruptors started eating away market share from both. While they continued to stay profitable they were relegated to a marginal player status. Call it providence or just competitive landscape, A & B were finding it difficult to change, straightjacketed by their people and process. Technology alone was unable to pull them out of the quagmire they found themselves in.

Market forces led to consolidation of the industry and the founders of A & B who were healthy competitors decided to merge their business operations to create larger play. Due diligence and valuations aside, both believed that their technologies provided them the platform on which they had competed and created a name for themselves. In a merger of equals who decides on the prevalence of process and technology while the people were relatively easy to put into different buckets to rationalize.

Thus began the discussion and debate between the survival of technology landscape, the business applications, and the IT infrastructure, none willing to give a quarter. Both IT teams presented the merits of their choices to the combined management who defended their IT architectures and wanted their solutions to become the solution of choice. Both portrayed passionate attachment to their investments to the extent that rational thought was kept aside; so they decided to call in a consultant for mediation.

The consultant, a veteran with experience of many mergers and acquisitions and more than a score years behind him agreed to assist in resolution of the seemingly childish conflict. He started by asking some tough questions on the intent and rationale behind the merger, the new GTM (Go-To-Market) positioning, the target customers, competitive landscape, and finally team competencies to support the chosen solution. He opined that these shall determine the victor and survivor between the battles of technology solutions.

They agreed to drop their earlier arguments and align with the direction set by the consultant as the way forward. After all there was no direct impact to their business or customers due to technology frameworks and to that extent they were chasing a red herring driven by ego, otherwise a non-issue. Saner minds now applied rigor to determine the best option including a hybrid approach if necessary to solving the problem of technology choice. The solution that emerged gave them the benefit they wanted from technology.

Which solution stack finally won ? Does it matter ? What matters is that the decision was taken the way it should have in the initial stages by evaluating business benefit and connect to customers; you cannot go wrong with such criteria as compared to evaluating merits of one technology stack versus another. Forget IT folks, today business leaders also get enamored by smooth talking technology sales people who create inane metrics for assessment and are able to influence the search engine enabled technology decision makers.

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