There is a lot more that goes into choosing a vendor than just seeing if the product works or the vendor can provide a compelling presentation or demo.
You need to be able to trust the vendor and that means it not only needs to have a reputation for being honest, it has to have a commitment to sticking with the offering once it convinces you to invest on deploying it and/or developing on it.
If the vendor can't showcase what it does, do what it says or it has the attention span of a 4-year-old on sugar, that vendor should be avoided. This was driven home this week at Demo 2014.
Google Glass As Killer App
Demo always brings a number of compelling demonstrations. However, what struck me the hardest was one by a small medical company called Healium. It was showcasing a critical app that would be used in emergency room situations where a large number of decisions regarding medicine, equipment and procedures have to be made quickly with zero tolerance for error. The solution could define whether the patent would live or die.
The product was an app that ran on Google Glass with a voice interface for questions and provided check lists, assuring the medical professional wouldn't make a mistake. At Demo, you get one shot to show your product. As the presenter started, Google Glass crashed and refused to reboot. Imagine this happening as you were fighting for life with a healthcare provider, relying on this device to do the right thing, now panicked and trying to make critical decisions without the information they've grown to depend on. You'd be dead.
The presenter then explained that they had become concerned with Google Glass because its future was uncertain and Google had appeared to have lost interest in it. One of the judges, to make the presenter feel better, said, "Don't worry I've seen a lot of Google Glass demos, if yours would have worked it would have been the first."
A lot of folks made big bets on Google Glass and it does appear clear that Google has all but lost interest in it. This happens a lot, but a vendor that doesn't commit creates massive risk problems for you and your efforts -- and this risk could kill you.
How to Determine Commitment
Years ago when I was working for a huge IT company, I became aware that our firm was, in order to keep the French Government from buying a competing offering, representing that we would soon have a product in market that would meet that government's needs.
We did this weeks after pulling the budget for that product and our representation was total BS. With IBM last decade, I had an ongoing argument with the head of their PC unit on whether IBM was going to keep the unit or spin it out. He argued he was friends with the IBM CEO who was committed to the unit and that I just wasn't closely connected enough to understand that IBM would never get out of the PC business. This went on until I got an "oh crap" email from him and the unit was sold to Lenovo. He wasn't lying to me, because the decision had been made above him, but it clearly was more obvious to me than it was to him.
There are three key ways to determine commitment:
When Cisco tried consumer products it was an area outside of its expertise and it was likely to and did pull back after they made the anticipated mistakes.
HP's CEO is has been solidly focused on quarterly returns and came out of Bane Capital, suggesting she would be more interested in cutting and downsizing, so commitments from her would have limited value.
Finally, Google has the attention span of a 4-year-old and loses focus quickly, suggesting anything beyond search is unlikely to be continued unless it accidentally becomes massively successful. In the case of Google Glass, it looks like the cost is exceeding the benefit for Google.
Peek Beneath the Covers
If you don't want to be blindsided by a vendor pulling support from a critical product or commitment, look underneath the covers. If the effort looks more like a hobby, if the CEO can't be trusted because he is driven by external factors (or is clearly out of touch), or if the effort is in the red, there is a high likelihood you'll be left by the vendor holding its now unwanted child. Look beyond the sales force, who is likely the last to know, and make sure a vendor's unwanted child doesn't unexpectedly become your problem.