Greg Enright: Marketers score solution victory

Chalk one up to the technology marketers.

In their ongoing efforts to paint a Disneyland-like picture of how technological innovations can answer every enterprise-related problem, from a wonky workflow system to a conked-out coffee maker, they’ve struck a major victory. And they did it with one word: solution.

About three years ago, the s-word began infiltrating our environment. It cropped up in sales literature, on projection screens at user conferences and, along with the golf shirts that replaced their suits during the dot-com boom, it cropped up in vendor sales people’s pitches in your board rooms.

As is the case today with Web Services, technology buyers and users started scratching their heads as to just what these slicksters meant by the term ‘solution’. The first step to cutting through the smoke of this new piece of jargon was realizing that the term was synonymous with “product”, or more correctly, a suite of products that work in harmony to rectify a problem.

The more skeptical CIOs and network managers questioned whether what was being offered was indeed a solution to their IT problems. Perhaps many professionals, already having been inundated with similarly odorous marketing terms, didn’t bat an eyelash and ultimately didn’t care what the vendors were now calling their wares.

Many, however, took umbrage with the vendors’ assumption that their offerings were going to solve whatever challenge they were addressing. Many asked, “Who says this is a solution to my dilemma? It could turn out to be the biggest nightmare of an implementation I’ve ever seen and might not solve a thing.”

Perhaps some were even mildly offended by the inherent arrogance of the term.

But in the end, successful marketing grows out of having confidence in one’s product, and occasionally a bit of arrogance creeps into that equation, too. That fact is accepted by IT professionals; dealing with it is part of the technology-buying game. Confusing and sometimes irritating marketing terms therefore often become part of our everyday IT lingo, and that is what’s happened with “solution”.

It’s no secret that we’re moving towards a world where large-scale enterprise IT hardware and software isn’t bought piece-by-piece, but rather as a complete package. The individual components might be purchased incrementally, but all are fitting into a large overall puzzle that collectively has become known as a solution. A switch, for example, links with a server which links with security software which links with an operating system, etc. etc. Through the myriad vendor partnerships that are being concluded on a daily bases in all sectors of IT, this concept is taking hold.

It would be great if it had a more honest moniker, such as technology packages or even tech envelopes. But such is not the case. The marketers have won. For those to whom the word “solution” still smacks of conceit, it looks like, in this case, we’ll just have to go with the flow.