How much of a problem can you buy away?

My eCommerce team is world class – the best group I’ve worked with, capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. From top-to-bottom, we’re defining compelling visions, creating aggressive roadmaps, delivering innovation and quality, testing into winners, and measuring results. Even still, we can’t be experts at everything, and resources are limited.

This means there are times when we need to explore the vast vendor landscape to find tools that can help us solve our problems. We tend to focus in three areas:

  • Things that have been commoditized, because we don’t think they’ll help us differentiate.
  • Things that are really, really hard, because we don’t have the desire (or time) to build or maintain world-class-systems that we can easily buy.
  • Things that are outside of our core competencies, because sometimes the best way to get started with a new technology is to have someone else build it and then take it over.

In each of these areas, there’s a sense we’re buying a problem away, that by leveraging a vendor for ratings and reviews, or personalization, or search, or recommendations, or whatever, we can free our resources to focus on other things. And this is mostly true. But it’s never completely true.

It’s never completely true because there’s no problem that can be bought away completely. Even if we’ve “completely” outsourced a program (like ratings and reviews, for example), we need to define our strategy, manage our vendor, provide customer support and issue escalation, measure the program’s effectiveness, tweak the experience, and defend our budget. Despite our vendor’s promises, these things cannot be outsourced. Not effectively, anyway.

And who would want to hand all of these things over anyway? Vision? Analytics? Roadmap? I may want to leverage a vendor at times, but I never want to hand them my company’s strategy and ask them to drive it.

What does this mean? It means that when we consider buying a problem away, we need to understand that we can very rarely buy away the whole thing. We need to allocate both resources and dollars for the activities listed above, for ongoing support, and for the cost of potentially moving a capability in-house over time. We need to understand that there’s no such things as “hands-off” management or programs that run themselves.

Related: Shiny new objects rust over time

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One thought on “How much of a problem can you buy away?

  1. Pingback: Shiny new objects rust over time | Lee Zukor

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