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The best tech investment I never made: Four CIOs' tales

Minda Zetlin | Aug. 14, 2012
IT leaders must learn to tell whether a new technology will transform their businesses -- or just become the next boondoggle. Four CIOs offer their perspectives.

-- Minda Zetlin

The Vendor Is Unproven

Many of today's most innovative new products are created by small, entrepreneurial companies. That's great news for the American spirit of innovation, but working with startups can make an enterprise CIO nervous. "In one case, we were going to be funding 100% of a company's payroll," Weeks recalls. "We had to wonder, 'Will they have other companies that use it, or are they going to go out of business as soon as we stop writing checks?'"

If that happened, the company might have been left with a great product, but no support or continued development. "There are ways around that. For instance, we could have said that as part of our agreement we could take over the source code if that happened," Weeks says. "But having developers work on someone else's code is very painful."

I've been a CIO for 13 years, but in the recent past, it's become like the I Love Lucy episode in the candy factory. Kevin Roberts, CIO, Abilene Christian University

Weeks and his team decided to pass on the new product, and when they did, he recalls, "I remember the [vendor's] CEO saying, 'I'm going to call you once a week until you buy our product,' He only called for about three weeks." Sure enough, about a year and a half later, the vendor went out of business. "It was a company that wasn't solid from a financial perspective, even though they had a great product," Weeks says.

And even if the vendor offering a new product is on solid footing, switching away from a vendor you have a long-term relationship with can be risky. "You have to look at your partnerships," Weeks says. "Bringing in a new vendor will have a benefit in the short term. If you're looking at other products, your long-established vendors will be on their toes -- they won't want you going to that product. But if you do it, will they be upset? If you were a high-profile client for them, you might not be as high-profile anymore. You might get less attention, less focus and less expertise. I'm not suggesting you should base your decision solely on that, but it's something to consider."

We're Not Ready

Sometimes, both a product and its vendor have proven track records. It might be clear that this would be a solid investment -- but your organization might be unprepared to take advantage of it. Recently, Jason Cohen, CIO at New York-based Diversified Agency Services (DAS), considered a move to the public cloud. But he eventually decided that DAS -- a holding company for more than 190 of the world's largest advertising agencies and communications firms -- wasn't ready.


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