Do you prefer to buy a well-known brand when upgrading your IT infrastructure, rather than choosing the new kid on the block? In the 1980s, this was summed up by the saying: “No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”. In other words, if it came down to a close decision between two vendors, the proposal from IBM was a safe choice because it would not ruffle any feathers.

Times have moved on, but the principle of the ‘safe’ brand remains the same. Many companies fear becoming an early adopter because they do not want to take what they perceive as a risk with an unknown vendor, no matter what innovative features their products offer or how competitive their price.

Today’s challenging economic climate and tight budgets can amplify this fear, making it even more difficult for organisations to move away from the tried and tested because every IT pound spent has to deliver a rapid ROI. There is also limited time to review market newcomers because IT teams are much smaller. In many medium sized businesses, in particular, strategic thinkers have been driven out by continued restructuring.

However, by not considering up and coming vendors and new technologies organisations miss out on opportunities to innovate, improve productivity and cut costs. They also risk getting tied into their existing vendor’s upgrade cycle, which can be expensive, may not take them along their desired path or, even worse, may promise new developments which then take longer than promised to materialise.

Considering new market entrants and making a considered decision whether or not to change vendor should be part of the strategy for every organisation which is serious about using IT to gain business advantage. Is there an opportunity to do things better? Has the incumbent vendor kept up with market developments? Are there new solutions that offer better capability at reduced cost and/or with more flexibility, or has there been a step change in technology which is at the core of a new vendor’s product?

Media articles provide an important source of information about new products and vendors. Another source can be the Gartner Magic Quadrant for the particular product sector, although at present NetScout is challenging Gartner’s independence in the courts, claiming that companies who spend more with Gartner obtain better positioning. However, the reports that support the Magic Quadrant may offer additional information to supplement that provided by the vendors themselves.

One thing worth noting is that using standard interfaces is rarely in a vendor’s best interests – particularly if they have a large market share. Smaller vendors may be better at developing services with standard interfaces, so if your organisation is looking for greater flexibility it may be advantageous to choose services from challenger brands rather than from the very large players who may use proprietary interfaces. As with all these things, you need to do a detailed evaluation – but don’t be afraid of being an innovator if it’s the right thing for your business. Remember, Google was once a challenger brand!