Let’s start with a dare: I dare you to go to any large corporation, find an IT architect and ask them to give you a diagram of their complete architecture. I honestly think that they will politely ignore you, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are able to have access to this end-to-end architecture and that this architecture is accurate (and that you can find a screen or a piece of paper that is big enough to fit all of it in one page); by looking at this diagram, you will quickly understand why software consolidation is a very appealing proposition: multiple pieces of software serving the same purpose, duplicated teams, disparate processes… Think of all the money you can save if you buy this giant universal platform that everyone will use and will give you complete control over your IT!
Except that never happens. This giant convergent platform never gets implemented, even if it restricted to a certain functional vertical (e.g. billing, ERP, etc.). So why can’t we consolidate pieces of software into one? Let me give you my two cents.
Note: Hopefully the example I gave speaks for itself, but let me clarify the context of this article: I am specifically addressing software consolidation for very large organizations; of course if your organization employs 10 people and you’re all using google apps then this does not apply to you.
1. Large systems are complicated
This goes without saying but it’s better to say it: the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is fictional. Seriously though, it is so complicated to imagine a solution that would cater to the need of every company and every use case is ludicrous.
2. Enterprise softwares are outdated
While we can all agree that a universal solution is a utopia, this does not mean that you can’t create a solution that gives a large percentage of the solution, is what the smart guys at big enterprise software companies must have thought. To cater to the remaining few percents, customization can be added, (for a fee, charged by the software provider itself). And they have. These large enterprise software implementation have become colossi (at least I think that’s the plural of colossus) that are really hard to move: they are gigantic, expensive, slow-responsive and use backend technologies from the 70s.
As a result, these platforms become engorged and most of the innovation around them is about managing them more efficiently rather than offering a competitive advantage against the rest of the market. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying big enterprise software is dead, they are necessary.
But in an established competitive environment, you distinguish yourself by fighting for the edges, which means fast reactivity, which is incompatible with these outdated massive implementations.
3. Companies need solutions not platforms
How does one find its competitive edge? By implementing efficient targeted solutions. And as far as I could witness, this trend does not seem to be slowing down, quite the contrary (which I believe is a very healthy response). However, the multiplication of targets solution contributes to rendering the consolidation problem even more complicated and necessary.
4. Budget and learning curves are real constraints
Again, this might seem banal but is worth saying. An enterprise is driving a team of people, with their own expertise and responding to the demand of the market. Any change has a cost upfront and downstream, especially when replacing a well-known software as part as a consolidation effort.
5. Consolidation softwares aren’t business driven
In this realm where a single solution does not exist and businesses tend to purchase more and more specific solution, data consolidation platform flourish. Unfortunately, in order to cater to the complexity of the systems we’re dealing with, they are often driven by the underlying technology and not the business requirements.
This sounds a lot like business jargon, so let me explain this with an example: your software relies on its data back-end, and if you have tried to consolidate multiple back-end systems together, whether you use a traditional or distributed data platform, the first thing you end up doing is designing the data schema of the platform, then implement a way for the data to move from multiple backends to this system.
This is not the way your business want to see consolidation. Your business has a clear idea of what is the most important entity from which they can gain insight (for example analyzing user or customer behavior). This means that your consolidation platform schema needs to always be able to adapt to your business and not your business to try and fit into a schema.
So what’s next?
Software consolidation has tremendous application in giving insight to any business owner. But it needs to be a solution, not a generalized overhaul of the IT eco-system. Therefore I think it requires a good data virtualization solution. This solution must have at least the following qualities:
- Be business oriented
- Be able to publish fresh data on demand
- Be flexible enough to interface with any new element of the IT eco-system
- Be able to handle any amount of data
- Be able to publish results using known methods (using standard connectors/languages)
Of course, I work for a company that provides all these capacities, but that does not make my analysis unfounded. I would not work for a company if I didn’t believe it provided something truly unique and needed by the market. I genuinely believe that this type of solution will be the cement of the future IT eco-systems.