Ah the days when “lock-in” meant being locked into a bar after official closing hours. I remember Friday nights at 1am when my favourite bar would close. Half a dozen of us would hang around after the bell, knowing that, if the owner was in a party mood, we could get the run of the back room for another few hours. And what a room it was… if you like playing pool, this place was a pool player’s dream.
Instead of the standard American pool tables with the squared off pockets, these were half size snooker tables with the cushions rounding off at the pockets. Four of them in match-perfect condition. The pockets were also traditional snooker pockets, with little rails to gather the potted balls. When you potted one you were rewarded with this lovely ‘click and chink’ sound as the ball dropped onto the rails and chinked against other balls already there. Anyone who has ever played snooker, or even watched TV coverage of matches at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield will know what an addictive noise that is!
What lock-in means to me these days…
Last week, I was renewing a contract with a mainframe software vendor. I wanted a renewal clause for the following term (i.e. three years from now) which would stipulate the prices for a sliding scale of MSU capacity. Unfortunately, the vendor was having none of it. The only renewal clause the sales guy would offer was for a fixed MSU capacity and it was 12% higher than todays price. My attempts to tie price increases to inflation were simply rejected on the basis of “policy”.
It frustrates me like crazy that the big enterprise software vendors get away with treating their customers like dog turd. However, it is also what makes my job fun, so I may rant, but it is an integral part of the game we play.
The stark contrast between this old dinosaur and a new, innovative software vendor I have been dealing with recently was striking. In this situation there was absolutely no lock in. The vendor was eager to please and eager to see their software used within our organisation. But my experience tells me that five years down the line, the same dynamic will be playing out once the vendor has successfully captured and locked us in.
Lock-in is inevitable when deploying software in large organisations, but if you defend yourself against it from the beginning with the right contract clauses, it need not be clash of the titans each time the contract comes up for renewal. (Some of these are described in a post I wrote on Giving Up Perpetual Licences).
Having said this, the software industry is changing. Small software vendors are springing onto the scene everyday to challenge the old behemoths. One that I particularly admire is Basecamp (previously 37Signals). In a podcast interview I listened to recently, co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH) said that he did not include the value of the company as part of his personal wealth. Instead, he operates on the basis that the business could disappear tomorrow. His motivation for Basecamp is based on making high-quality products and surrounding himself with people he enjoys working with, not on locking-in his customers and then milking them like dairy cows.
I take my hat off DHH and those like him who are transforming the industry!
Here’s to getting locked in and enjoying it… click, chink 🙂
Image credit: Pool Side in December, DonkerDink, creative commons, Flickr.com.