Subject: "buying": decision making vs. decision impact
From: Tom Lord <>
Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 14:46:06 -0800 (PST)

I think the conversation has confused two meanings of "buying".

On the one hand there's "What are they buying?" in the sense of "What
questions are they asking to make the purchase decison".  On the other
hand there's "What is being bought?" in the sense of "What is the
nature of the product?"  I'm no sales rep, but I've been told that
often it helps to draw a customers attention to any disconnect between
"what they're buying" and "what is being bought".

Ian's account of enterprise IT decision making processes suggests
that, yes, often the decisions are explained in terms of entirely
short-term, immediate-problem-solving reasons.  What are they buying?
They're usually buying a way to keep some IT managers ass out of
nearby fires and the questions they ask relate to that.

But Ian's account also points out that enterprise IT decision making
takes place in with the technical constraints of historical baggage
"accreted since the dawn of the information age".  While they may have
set out to buy immediate solutions at every point of the way, what
they actually got was a relationship to a development process that
keeps that baggage running (more or less) and keeps extending it.
What they actually got was a set of compatibility and migration
problems to be solved by future developers.

But even with that distinction, I think taking Ian's account too
literally would be a mistake.  For example, IBM's record of supporting
old systems well into the future is a selling point and many companies
have the strength of using the sales channel to bring customers into
the process of planning future software -- some customers _do_ think
explicitly about the process.

Finally, it's more clear to a lot of business press writers today than
in the past that IT architectures are an open problem which will have
opportunities to develop for a long time to come and that as things
heat up, nimbleness is important.  In the business press, at least,
customers are being told explicitly that they're buying into an
ongoing process and should think about the issues that raises: the use
of standards, the adaptiveness of your IT architecture, the future of
your software suppliers .... and even occasionally your access to the
source code.

As an engineer reading that business press, I often see the technical
issues oversimplified and a lack of any attention to the potential
role of customer in the development process.  Free software and open
source processes answer many of the process concerns the business
press already knows about and do something more: they open the door to
helping the customers become more sophisticated participants in the
software ecology.