Beware of information technology vendors bearing “solutions.”

Almost every technology company pitching its wares to the business community today is no longer satisfied to sell a mere IT product. They want to sell solutions.

But while the technology industry is notorious for marketing pitches laden with jargon, those who sell computing hardware, software or IT services and call them solutions should be looked upon with particular skepticism and at the very least a healthy sense of reasonable doubt. Solutions in the context of IT are ambiguous and often not nearly what they seem. Upon close scrutiny they may, in fact, solve nothing.

Vendors say customers — particularly those who lack the IT skills to integrate and manage information technology — want, need and absolutely must have solutions.

So what exactly is a solution?

Well, some might say it’s any form of technology designed to make businesses more competitive, more efficient and productive. In general, a solution might create, enrich or enhance a business process. …the term means just about anything a vendor wants it to mean, and as a result, it’s quickly becoming synonymous with false promises and hollow hype. Text It can also enrich a vendor’s bottom line with a bigger sale, because it’s usually something “integrated.” It can be hardware, software and sometimes an IT service, or any combination of the three. The separate parts that comprise a solution are bolted together “seamlessly,” meaning everything works together (presumably without a hitch). And the whole of a solution is supposed to be something greater than the sum of its individual parts, which might previously been sold as separate products.

Drawing on more tech jargon, a solution might be described as “comprehensive and multifaceted.” So something positioned as an e-commerce solution could include back-end servers that run a range of transaction processing, cataloguing and inventory control applications. They, in turn, could be built within or on top of a Web site, which might be driven and supported by a range of communication services as well as an internal local area network that links other similar servers with other e-commerce applications. And maybe it’s all hosted by an IT service provider.

But a solution might also be something as simple as a remote access point, essentially a wireless data transfer device or router that looks like a small metal box and is described as a “wireless solution.”

In other words, the term means just about anything a vendor wants it to mean, and as a result, it’s quickly becoming synonymous with false promises and hollow hype.

These days, veteran IT customers recognize “solution” as a word that all too often means oversold capability, and businesses less experienced with technology should take a page from their playbook. Experienced customers are apt to be diligent and press hard on those who might seek to sell them solutions, looking for solid answers amidst the ambiguity. In addition to understanding what a solution comprises (what is actually being purchased in the way of a product or service) they’ll insist upon being clear about what that so-called solution does in terms of improving/creating/enriching business processes, precisely how it does so, how quickly it can be up and running, how rapidly its full functionality can be deployed, and how easily it can be integrated with the IT the company already has (or, will it work at all with the IT they now have).

Additionally, they’ll ask how easily the function and capability of that solution can be modified when the business grows or changes, and whether the customer can actually manage it all on their own. All basic questions, but it’s surprising how many customers fail to ask them.

Those are solutions for you. Sometimes they’re grand ideas, and sometimes they’re simply combinations of products sold with grand promises.

This is not to suggest that there aren’t extremely useful IT products and services out there that have benefited many businesses; there really are solutions to some business problems. Rather, the problem is that too many vendors have misrepresented their products as solutions when they’re really nothing of the sort.

Customers are getting wise to the hype, and vendors would be well advised to turn down the volume of “solution selling.” Better yet, just call the product what it is — hardware or software or an IT service — and let the business buyer determine what it solves.

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–McLean is editor-in-chief of ITWorldCanada and can be reached at [email protected]

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