James Governor's Monkchips

On “Food Solutions”, IT marketing and the Software Cookbook

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I went into a store Saturday marketing “food solutions”. Weird.

When I noticed the fridge compartment labeled “organic food solutions” I had to look twice. What on earth were they thinking? Since when did the language of food become so scientific, and why organic food in particular? I mentioned this to my wife when we got home and she pointed out the store also had an aisle labeled “meat solutions”. Is that really what we’re looking for in the new century? Is this “progress”?

We went to a different supermarket than usual because we just moved to a new apartment. The grocer is Tesco, the darling of UK retailing, a national champion no less, now the biggest retailer in Europe. Our usual store though is Sainsbury, which has warmer corporate colors and Jamie Oliver, the naked chef, on the advertising payroll.

I prefer a store that wants to sell me food rather than “solutions”. Food is processed enough already. Its like Jamie – ripping up herbs because cutting them with a knife is a little sterile….

I am an industry analyst and my wife is in high tech PR so perhaps we have just been overexposed to the word “solution”. But as far as I am concerned a solution is what you find in a test tube in chemistry class, or when you do the crossword.

I suppose Tesco’s point is that food is a hassle, it’s a problem that requires a solution. But what about the joy of food? In IT these days everything has to be a “solution” – just look at any IT press release. But is the word meaningful or just lazy marketing?

Aren’t IT buyers looking for solutions rather than best of breed products? So marketers and many consultants keep telling us.

A magazine some buddies used to work on, Network Week, had a house style that barred “solution” from news stories and features. Revolutionary stuff- respect to Maxwell Cooter!

Banning the word is a good exercise for any analyst or writer. Try it some time. It makes you think about what you’re trying to communicate.

Call me old fashioned but I will stick to Sainsbury’s for convenience, to my local Kurdish supermarket for Mediterranean vegetables, yoghurt and sundries, and to my local farmer’s market, Borough Market, for fresh fish and other goodies when I can find time.

I am not looking for a solution. I am looking for good food. I can cook. I like to cook. The food I throw together in five minutes is often better than I have been served in expensive restaurants. The same may be true of some of your “enterprise solutions”

Next time a vendor pitches you a “solution” ask yourself what are they afraid of? Is this science or an illusion of science? And if you choose this “organic IT solution” what are you missing out on? What nourishment? What experience? What set of skills that you can apply in other areas?

Beware solutions. Get to know your infrastructure better, and the herbs and spices and ingredients you have in the pantry. What are your existing assets? Do your developers have skills you aren’t utilizing, PERL scripting or Apache tomcat say? Build your own Software Cookbook of skills, infrastructure, and perhaps even software componentry and you are taking some small steps towards service oriented architecture.

Sometimes of course you do need a short term solution–when your audit office comes down the corridor and says: “We have three months to achieve Sarbanes Oxley compliance; we didn’t bring you into planning before because we thought it was too complex for you to understand the business implications”. Would the audit office have done that if they knew you had already worked with four divisions on lightweight workflow projects using existing email systems, and a six sigma project with your outsourced development team in Hydrabad?

Commercial off the shelf software (COTS) certainly has it place. Using standard componentry does tend to lower cost, but on the other hand licensing functionality you don’t actually need, embedded in a “solution” makes no sense. Buying a “solution” cab be an abdication of responsibility. Avoiding pre-packaged solutions can work well, especially if it leads to a horizontal focus on assets and services. “Solution” marketing can make this balance less clear.

I reckon it’s more interesting to apply the language of food to IT than the other way around.

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