Best of Breed, or Best of Mediocrity?

Having worked for some time as a software engineer in the enterprise security software world, I know that customers (enterprises) look for "best of breed" software. For a large company customer, this usually means that a software solution distinguishes itself in some way that makes it work well in their environment. Often, this translates to reliability, cross-platform support, person-to-person support and the ability to function beyond what is advertised.

As many are aware, there is "consolidation" going on in the security market. Big fish are swallowing smaller fish, and it's lucrative, in the short term, for everyone except customers. Supposedly, the consolidation means that two separate products can be "integrated", or unified. Never mind the previous competitive relationship that may have existed between the product teams and their management. For some reason, people seem to think that competition evaporates and that the two product teams will happily work together to build the next generation "Best of Breed" software solution.

Not so.

In any big corporation or software company, there are constant power plays being made. You could call this "decision making", and if you have uncommonly good leaders, you might even say good decisions are being made. Unfortunately, it is human nature for most people to misuse and abuse positions of power. Instead of making product decisions that are best for their merged customer base, they make decisions that keep themselves in a position of power.

So, we have two best of breed products: Overdog and Underdog. Underdog is easier to manage, but isn't as complete in its offerings. Overdog is more complete, but is more expensive to deploy and manage. Overdog has the advantage of being used in Fortune 500 companies. Underdog, on the other hand, is trying to break into that market space.

Enter Big Fish -- a.k.a. Consolidator. Consolidator buys Overdog, and a few years later, buys Underdog. We take two products, both "Best of Breed" in different ways, and expect to see them merged together to make something "next generation" -- better, faster, stronger, and easier to use.

Whenever there is a consolidation, talented people get fired, and their creative ideas and abilities are lost. Product integration never happens as easily as anyone would like to believe (if it happens at all). And in the end, customers end up with a product that we can best label as "Best of Mediocrity". Consolidation means that customers lose their "Best of Breed" solutions.

What can you expect from Software Consolidators? Mediocre solutions. Look elsewhere for excellence.