Do enterprises treat lock-ins differently from consumers?

David Gumbrell brings up an interesting point while commenting on a recent post. I had asked the question why people saw iTunes as DRM but not Word. And David said:

I have a suspicion that it’s because people buy iTunes with their own money and MS Office with their employer’s.

This is not about Microsoft per se, or even about Apple. It’s about lock-ins. Now there are many reasons why enterprises buy lock-in products and services:

  • The only game in town: In this instance a vendor has a real or virtual monopoly, elects to protect it, and enterprises want what that vendor offers. Lock-in wins. Victims don’t feel too good about it, but at least they understand it.
  • Your problem, your solution: Here the enterprise IT decision makers elect to outsource management of the problem, whatever that problem is, and are prepared to live with lock-in provided the problem is solved. Also understandable. And not that painful either, on the surface.
  • Stockholm syndrome: In this case the lock-in provider has excelled, the customer is so delighted with the product or service that he pretty much asks for the lock-in, it becomes a security blanket for him. Sometimes that security blanket helps him forget what he’s done, but most of the time he’s happy as Larry. Understandable and apparently pleasurable. Sometimes linked to the fact that decision-maker skills are deeply embedded in the architecture of the lock-in merchant.
  • Because it works, stupid: This is the enterprise norm. A selection is made with clear and present lock-in, with the defence that it’s the only solution that works soup-to-nuts. Pragmatism rules OK. Exacerbated by devolved decision-making, which allows people to concentrate on the benefits without worrying about the costs.

I am sure there are many other reasons that people buy lock-in products. Why am I so hung up about these products? I guess I just don’t like having to pay tons of money to try and free up my own information, to move it around, to manipulate it, change it, enrich it, whatever. Especially if the end result is that nothing works anyway.

That’s what DRM 1.0, otherwise called EAI, felt like. Maybe David Gumbrell’s right. If the decision makers don’t feel the pain of their decisions, they will continue to make strange decisions. Incentive misalignment.

I still live in hope, though. Even if my generation puts up with this nonsense, I cannot see Generation M doing it.

3 thoughts on “Do enterprises treat lock-ins differently from consumers?”

  1. If you’re choosing technology for yourself, lock-in affects the media collection that you hope to have 20 years from now. If you’re choosing technology for a company, lock-in affects the poor bastard who takes over the job you hope not to have two years from now.

  2. It’s not just the provenance of the expenditure that matters – it’s the number of users who’ll feel the impact that matters. The greater that number, the more disruption does the purchaser imagine will ensue (rightly or wrongly) and thus the lock-in represents the path of least resistance.

  3. Goes against all the laws of economics, doesn’t it? I can have Linux free, but pay through the nose for Windows, etc. Why did I bother reading Samuelson?
    I think the corporate reason for accepting lock-ins is timidity. No-one wants to make the decision to go with another system which sounds somehow ‘experimental’ and ‘geeky’, when there’s all those ads out there telling you how good Microsoft is, and everyone else is using it.
    And secondly – sorry to say this on a (ex?) CIO’s blog – for many of our clients (we’re an SME, they’re huge) the dead hand of the corporate IT department, and its long list of worthy requirements and internal procedures, is the greatest lock-in of all.
    A FTSE 100 company once paid us to write a simple external website for them, for specialised internal communications. We did it in a week, using a popular cheap templating package. (In effect, it’s a group blog). Their IT department had quoted them 12 to 18 months to do the same thing on their intranet.

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