With the winter games taking place in the former Soviet Union this month, it got me thinking about “Software Communism” – the practice of central planning by a single vendor that prevents the users from ever leaving. At the AHR Expo in NYC, I met with more than one prospect that was irate because he was being held hostage by their current software vendor, while there were others that had bought into the vendor’s utopian pitch of “a job for every worker and a chicken in every pot.”

Software CommunismThe basic premise of communism was that a central committee planning for the needs of the state’s constituents would be far more effective in meeting those needs than the free flowing chaos of free markets and democracy. When it did not work out for anyone but the central planners who enriched themselves via corruption and graft, the state erected large fences to prevent the citizens from leaving. Longing for the innovations produced by free market commerce was a crime, and fleeing to a better situation was punishable by death.

I think of these failed communism experiments when I see software vendors promoting the premise that only through a single software package can you achieve effective business outcomes, or when I see a failing vendor erecting “high fences” (i.e. holding customer data hostage) to prevent mass exodus. Fortunately, the failure of state communism plus the success of free markets tells us how Software Communism will ultimately end – software that enables innovations by interoperating easily across multiple vendors will win, and Software Communism will be a part of history that is conveniently omitted from the timeline during the software olympics opening ceremonies (should such a thing as software olympics ever come into existence).

At ServiceTrade, we use Salesforce.com, Marketo, Google Apps, and Echosign, among others. Each sends or receives data from the other seamlessly thanks to Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). We get to enjoy the terrific innovations and features that each offers without feeling burdened by high walls siloing off the data each application holds. The idea that any one vendor will deliver every innovation you need to run your business is silliness anyway; no company is big enough or smart enough to do everything and do it well.

Even the biggest symbols of Software Communism (i.e. Oracle, IBM, SAP) are slowly being dismantled by free market innovations and yielding to the requirements for free flowing innovation. Now, companies like Salesforce, Google, and ServiceTrade are showing the way for customers to have the innovations they want no matter where they originate.

So as you think about your next software purchase, don’t be sold by the theoretical allure of Software Communism. It did not work for state planning and it does not work for software planning either. Look for the best features and value and then ask “How easy is it to integrate your application with others?” The correct answer is “It is not hard because we offer a rich set of APIs for you or your integrator to do what works for your business.” If the answer comes back “The only way to get great software features is through central planning by a single vendor,” then you should run the other way…towards software freedom.

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