Not only do you have to deal with IP and Patent Madness, which we recently discussed, again, but you also have to deal with proprietary madness that is likely to drive us all mad (and may someday push the doctor over the edge, into the land of the crackpot, where at least one blogger in the space is already dwelling).
Just what is proprietary madness? It’s mega-corporations, especially in software and electronics, taking the rights of ownership to extreme. Started, and continued, by the current and former Technology heavyweights, including the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and SAP, it’s not only the creation of company specific standards for software and hardware interfaces, its the restriction of the specification of those interfaces to approved partners and suppliers, limiting the supply of support services and related products to a handful of vendors. This not only drives up the price of those products and services to well above the market average price for support services for software and products with open and published specifications, but can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get support when demand is high or related products if one of the few vendors who can produce products shuts down.
Those of you with SAP know exactly what we’re talking about. Unlike Oracle, which publishes its core schema, and does not change it between minor versions, SAP does not publish its score schema, does not guarantee any stability between bug updates between minor versions, such as between 4.7.1 and 4.7.2, instead requiring you to go through its proprietary NetWeaver interface, which you will, of course, have to acquire to actually support any customizations (and likely build applications in the Portal). And learning the portal is no easy task. One of the most complete books on it is 700 pages alone! And that’s just the beginning …
And while there is nothing wrong with proprietary technology, as a company needs some assets in order to survive, the lengths at which some companies go to keep it secret and protect it, in a world where data needs to be shared and products need to be utilized in conjunction with other products makes development (and the supply chains that rely on that development), a nightmare.
So what can you do?
1. Make Open Source / Open Systems a priority.
When doing your weighted evaluation of a provider, penalize any provider with proprietary systems, and severely penalize providers with highly guarded proprietary systems that cannot be maintained by anyone but the provider. Give this a weighting of three times more than your gut thinks it should be weighted.
2. Demand the ability to do full data dumps to an open standard, such as XML, or a text format, such as CSV, whenever you want.
And do them at least quarterly, if not monthly, and do incremental full data backups at least weekly, if not daily. If the system stops working for you, you need to migrate, and even if the system does work, you will still need to integrate that data into your (virtual) data warehouse to support analysis and other processes.
3. Migrate away from proprietary vendors at first opportunity.
It doesn’t matter how much you paid, or how bad you think you will look by trying to replace the solution that was the right solution when you bought it, because it will always cost you more in the long run — with costly maintenance, custom development, and manpower to manually integrate data dumps into third party solutions — and that’s worse than admitting there’s a better solution than what you have. Moreover, chances are when you bought that big, monolithic, proprietary solution, there wasn’t a more open alternative, so you didn’t really do anything wrong and a good Procurement department always looks for ways to improve processes and platforms.