What is vendor lock-in and how do you prevent it?
What is vendor lock-in? We speak of Vendor Lock-in when you become dependent on a (software) supplier. This can be caused, among other things, by the use of proprietary frameworks or libraries, wrong choice of development language but also by limited ownership of IP.
KEY LEARNING POINTS
- What is Vendor Lock-in
- Consequences of Vendor Lock-in
- How to prevent Vendor Lock-in
Vendor lock-in; suddenly you’re stuck
Your business is growing. You’ve made investments, such as getting software developed, and you have a product development that serves your customers. You are generating sales and you have come a long way. One Tuesday morning you receive an email from one of your key customers, it’s a request to introduce a new feature. It’s a logical request, the feature in question could be useful to a lot of other customers. You have a plan, and contact your software developer.
The latter indicates he will have time to start working on the feature in a month or two. That’s considerably later than you’d like. Then again, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You immediately ask for an hourly estimate and it is not exactly the best. But the feature is important for your product and you decide to invest.
It is now three months later. You have received a hefty invoice, the feature has not yet been implemented and by now you are starting to lose confidence. How will you tell your customer that introducing a seemingly simple feature is taking so long? Meanwhile, you have received more requests from other customers. This can’t go on like this, you have neither the time nor the budget to go through this process again. Let alone more often! While your developer continues to work on the first feature, you request a second opinion from a number of other software development companies.
Now you are really shocked, none of the software developers you approached is familiar with the development language in which the software is written, let alone with the use of the self-built libraries that are supposed to save time. They can’t help you develop new functionality. You are stuck. Or to put it another way, you are the victim of a classic case of Vendor Lock-in.
Factsheet: Vendor lock-in (Dutch)
5 tips to avoid vendor lock-in
Development language and vendor lock-in
The most common mistake that causes vendor lock-in is the wrong choice of development language. Always choose a language for which a large community of developers is available. Languages like Ruby on Rails, GO, Erlang and NodeJS are technically fantastic but developers are very scarce; you will notice this when you scale up, want to switch development partners or sell your company. For the development of enterprise applications, platforms and SaaS solutions, choose Java, Python or dotNet as development language and use open standards.
Vendor lock-in and intellectual property
In other words, who owns all the source code? Make sure your development partner does not use proprietary libraries or frameworks but chooses proven open source components with a large community and a free-to-use licence. In addition, all developed source code should become your property so that you can build on it with another developer in the future.
Low-Code, No code, Custom Software and Open Source Software
For some “internal” applications where user experience and performance are less important, low-code and no-code frameworks can offer a solution. But beware: here, too, you are bound by choice. Replacing or removing such a framework all too often results in the need for a complete rebuild. A smart selection of common open source software components combined with limited customisation to differentiate your application often gives better results and avoids vendor lock-in.
Quality and vendor lock-in
For you, the hardest thing to assess is the quality of the software developed. Has the right architecture been chosen? Is the code of good quality? What about documentation and test coverage? All this determines how quickly development can continue and whether new developers can start working with the application.
Vendor lock-in contracten
Make sure you can leave your software supplier at the time you want. A notice period of more than 2 months is out of date.
Nice touch: With the advice above, you not only prevent vendor lock-in but also lay the foundation for an application that is future-ready and that your company and its end users can enjoy for a long time to come. This will prevent IT issues and allow you to focus on growth.
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