I’ve been advising businesses on technology strategy for more than 30 years. In that time, the world of technology has changed almost beyond recognition. One thing, however, remains constant. It’s complex and it’s complicated. The reasons behind this have evolved as technology has become more pervasive and the choice of platforms greater. In this article I wanted to raise an issue I’m seeing more and more: the lack of integration in single-vendor technology stacks due to the technology consolidation trend.

I’ve recently completed an interim CTO/ CIO role for a client. The company is a fashion retailer with 1,500 stores in multiple countries. It was looking to move to an omnichannel model and had multiple key IT topics to address. These included simplifying their application landscape, the move of their infrastructure to the cloud, cyber protection, business continuity, and the shift of the overall IT organization and operating model, among others. 

However, chief among their issues was implementing a retail system as a cornerstone to move to an omnichannel landscape. The system was sold as a ‘one-stop-shop’ retail platform. What the client discovered though was actually very different. The ‘integrated’ technology stack they bought was bits and pieces of different software packages. Although they were all labelled with the vendor’s brand, they were not integrated. The company had spent millions to implement the purchased software pieces and had major difficulties in deploying them. Ultimately, my client had to handle the integration of something that should have been a fully integrated package. 

What’s becoming clear is that the promise of a single-source, silver-bullet solution for a complex business is too good to be true. 

Driven by growth and developing a strong market proposition, vendors have acquired new platforms at pace. Then, through either a lack of strong upfront due diligence that failed to surface compatibility problems or a hasty desire to make an immediate return on their investment, they skipped integration. This creates a huge gap between what clients think they’re buying and what they get. 

This causes frustration, large program cost increases and resentment towards the vendor. 

There are strong lessons for both sellers and buyers here.

Buyers need to really kick the tires on what they’re buying, moreso today than ever before perhaps. Proper due diligence, conversations with existing clients, and getting advice from people who’ve managed similar programs elsewhere are all critical. The pace and scale of digital transformation needed in many businesses are significant. However, the risk and cost of getting it wrong are even more serious. As the proverb says ‘haste makes waste’.

Equally, though the vendors need to take note. Overselling integration is a short game. Customers will soon get wise to the situation. In a world where a failed transformation can have significant consequences for technologists, many will only get their fingers burned once. Long memories and market chatter will soon impact sales and well-networked buyers will tread warily when you come knocking at their door... if they’ll see you at all!