AUTHOR: Daryl Bishop
I recently listened to an interview with Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice1. In his book he explores the modern Western industrial society tenet that, as individuals, in order to maximize our welfare, we all need to have freedom—and the way to maximize individual freedom is to maximize freedom of choice. So what happens if consumers, for example, have seemingly unlimited choice?
Schwartz’s hypothesis is that the sheer volume of choice in front of consumers today causes paralysis rather than liberation. Instead of selecting “a thing” that best suits us, we are confused by all we have to choose from and are often dissatisfied with our ultimate choice (the pursuit of perfection effect). The author goes on to suggest there may be a causal link between the increased percentage of depression cases in Western societies and the choice paradox. Schwartz suggests that the magic number for choice in retail is between six and eight; under six and it feels like we have no choice, and over eight—too much choice.
I have observed this effect for quite a few years now, and I term it the “Boost Juice effect.” A number of years ago in Australia, there was a surge of juice bars, the most recognizable being Boost Juice. There was one other major juice bar chain (its name escapes me), and several smaller ones across the country. At the time, Australia was going through the juice version of the Dutch Tulip craze—juice bars on every street corner.
The difference for me between Boost Juice and the also-rans was not the quality of product, rather that Boost Juice had a limited menu, and it was relatively simple to choose your juice. If I wanted a smoothie, there were six flavors to choose from and similar for a fresh juice. The other bars went with the total freedom of the “make it yourself” formula. I had one juice from this store, and to be honest I found the process to make my own juice confusing, and frankly it took me too much time to make my mind up. Sure the juice was fine, however my experience wasn’t great. While I’m not saying the other stores disappeared solely due to “the paradox of choice” conundrum, I do believe it was a contributing factor.
So What Are the Implications for IT?
My position is that a contributing factor for failure or missed objectives in technology programs and transformation endeavors is too much freedom of choice. With so many conflicting and complementary options from different vendors, CIOs and IT management—with the best of intentions—strive for perfection and, for the same reason as consumers, are ultimately let down by the experience. Instead of looking for the best-of-breed products at each level in the stack, make decisions from a viewpoint of integration, solution-orientation and integrated services.
When assessing the purchase an IT solution, ask whether:
- The vendor provides an integrated solution; do I have to buy plug-in components from other vendors to complete the stack? My observations are that for some of our customers integrating so-called best-of-breed products versus single vendor solutions often drives integration and support issues during and after the project. It’s the old adage, “perfection is the enemy of delivery.”
- Are there clear reference sites where you can verify the integration of the vendor solution? Similar to throwing meat into the water and telling a shark not to eat, some vendors will promise any and all without providing clear evidence.
- Is the vendor strategy clear, concise and is the strategy and roadmap complementary to your IT and business objectives?
Definitely use competition for your own benefit; however don’t go mad with choice. Limit choice, and be smart and focused on your desired outcomes and long-term objectives. VMware provides product suites—cloud infrastructure and EUC solutions—that are heavily integrated and backed up by strategy and technology consulting services. Over time other vendors will follow, providing suites or solutions rather than point products. The VMware vCloud Suite for example, is a complete cloud infrastructure solution covering the hypervisor layer right up to the cloud portal, managing and monitoring layer. This suite removes complexity by simplifying choice, while being flexible enough to meet customer needs.
As a consumer, you don’t need to buy separate hypervisor, automation, security, monitoring and management components and then throw the integration dice. Of course, you can if you wish—choice hasn’t gone away. It’s up to you how much choice you want, and you can dial it up or dial it down. I believe too many years of “dialed-up” choice is one of the contributors to project blowouts caused by cost overruns and missed delivery targets.
Above all else, IT management should strive for 100 percent perfection in project delivery and lifecycle management. Ask yourself whether the level of choice is providing a better project outcome or rather is increasing the risk of project delivery. Where possible, limit choice and think strategically around proven integrated solutions to meet your business objectives.
Daryl Bishop is business solutions architect for VMware Accelerate Advisory Services, based in Melbourne, Australia.
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