Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst of breed, golden silo

After some 13-odd years in new technology and product introduction, you can't help but look at trends that pop up in this industry with a cynical eye.

One of the catch phrases I hear often is best-of-breed approach. For me, every time I hear it, it is a sure sign that a market segment or a technology is not mature.

It is somewhat counter-intuitive. Best-of-breed pick-and-choose componentized approach to service delivery hints at ranges of well defined components, fungible, interchangeable. You would think that the interfaces being well defined, each vendor competes on unique differentiators, without impacting negatively the service delivery.

Conversely, silo has become an increasingly bad word in telecoms, evoking poorly architected, proprietary daisy chain of components that cannot integrate gracefully in a modern organic network.

Then why is it that best-of-breed always end up taking longer, being more expensive and less reliable than a fully integrated solution from a single vendor?

In my mind, the standards that have been created to describe the ideal networks, from WAP to MMS, from IMS to LTE have been the product of too many vendor lobby-ism. The results in many case are vaguely defined physical and functional components, with lowest common denominator in term of interface and call flows.
The service definition being somewhat excluded from standards has left little in term of best practice to integrate functional components efficiently.

There is a reason in my mind why the Chinese vendors ZTE and Huawei are doing so well. It is not only because of their cost structure, it is because their all in-house technology approach for business critical components make sense.
It allows fast, replicable deployment and trouble shooting. There is much less complexity in integration and roll out, which is the most consuming part of CAPEX.

Whenever you see these vendors using third party technology, it is because it is either so mature and stable that it is not worth developing in-house or so specialized that it has not been developed yet.
In any case, we are talking about fringe technologies. Anything that is business critical is identified long in advance and developed in-house.
Their product and services might not be as sophisticated or differentiating than specialized vendors, but they deliver value by providing the minimum services at the lowest cost, with good enough reliability.

The companies that will win will either be small niche vendors at the periphery of the larger market opportunities or companies that will be good at providing better value, with stronger benefit, but at a price that  is equivalent.

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