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How to choose the right enterprise mobile, cloud and social tools

IT departments need to evaluate vendors for social tools, such as mobile and cloud. Without a secure plan, IT risks an unsecure liability.

BOSTON -- IT must focus on the user's needs to deliver tools and services employees want to use in the consumerization era.

To accomplish that, IT departments must create a sensible and agile plan to evaluate emerging technologies to meet end-user needs without putting the company at risk from a security or cost perspective.

"Love at first sight doesn't always lead to a long-lasting relationship with enterprise technology," said Tony Byrne, an analyst with Real Story Group, a research firm based in Silver Spring, Md., during a presentation at the E2 Conference here this week. "Nor does picking a product because your cousin Vinny recommends it."

IT departments are better off implementing a testing-based, agile selection methodology for evaluating vendors in emerging technologies, such as mobile, cloud, and social tools, Byrne said. Otherwise, it'd be too tempting or easy to go with the cool, upstart software vendor generating a lot of buzz.

The challenge, then, is for IT to cut through the hype and find the best piece of technology for their users and unique infrastructure.

"It's humbling when the solution you think is the best fit actually isn't based on intangibles that can't be explained properly on paper," Byrne said. "But you don't know what's going to be the best fit unless you try on a lot of different vendors."

Technology selection process

The process of selecting a vendor in an emerging technology sector forces IT departments to change the way they think about technology, Byrne said. The consumerization of IT has happened because employees want a specific application to solve a specific problem, such as Dropbox for file syncing, while IT thinks of technology in terms of a future-proof platform or suite they can add to.

Choosing technologies for today's end users requires a different approach; the selection process should begin with the proof of concept (POC) of two or three potential technologies before the actual vendor selection is made.

Spending more time on the selection process may seem counter-intuitive at first -- especially in the context of an agile and iterative process -- but this approach ultimately leads to a faster live pilot. Because more effort was devoted throughout this phase, there will be fewer surprises when the deployment occurs, Byrne added.

The agile selection methodology starts with a list of 10-12 potential vendors that is narrowed down to three or four vendors. Then, technologies from the vendors left standing enter the demo stage. IT should use their own testing tools for this process because the ones provided by the vendor "work flawlessly 95% of the time," Byrne said.

Next, IT needs to understand how a piece of software will fit into their environment. After the demo stage there should be two vendors that offer the best combination of business use case scenario, technology, partner ecosystem and value that can be piloted in a head-to-head POC competition. Software bugs, user complaints and potential data integration issues should all be ironed out by the vendors and DevOps team working together during the POC.

"Employees don't care what tool they are using," Byrne said. "What they want to do is show up at work and be effective and efficient at their job. They don't show up saying, 'I can't wait to check out my Hadoop.'"

Throughout the entire iterative selection process, IT departments should also negotiate with vendors on service-level agreements, contract length and price, and other variables to lock-in more favorable terms for the organization.

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