Krigsman, who writes a blog about what causes IT projects to fail, says a typical way software companies ensure customer loyalty is by making the cost of switching to a new vendor's solution impossibly high.
"It starts when the company sells its software for a low price, but the buyer then has to spend lots of money to implement the software," he says. "When it comes time to pay upgrade or maintenance fees, the buyer has already spent so much on implementation it really has no choice. That's vendor lock-in at its finest."
But sometimes vendors stoop to a new level of subterfuge. Just ask Bob Davis (not his real name), VP of marketing for a software vendor that competes against some of the biggest names in the networking business.
Davis says vendor lock-in can take several forms, not all of them exactly by the book. The first one happens when the networking vendor brings in its own system engineers to implement the software. Many organizations then become dependent on the vendor's SEs to keep the network running.
Level two occurs when the engineers proceed to turn on every single proprietary network service, sometimes without the customer's knowledge or consent. That makes moving to a new vendor nearly impossible without starting over from scratch.
Still, those are just hardball tactics, says Davis. The dirty tricks come in when the networking vendor's personnel become so entrenched within an organization they become de facto employees, with badges and full access. Davis says he knows of several instances where reps from a well-known vendor attended sales presentations given by competitors, then tried to torpedo the deals later. And if an employee at the customer's firm goes to bat for a competitor's product, he or she may find himself looking for work.
"Sometimes these vendors will go so far as to mess with the careers with people who are advancing an alternate agenda," says Davis. "They'll go to the CIO and say, 'Your network manager is really playing with fire by trying to get other vendors involved in the network.' They've been known to go directly to the network manager and say, 'Stop pushing this agenda or we'll get you fired.'"
Davis says he knows someone whose job was threatened and another individual who was "shifted to the job equivalent of Siberia" because they tried to introduce a competing technology solution.
"Everyone overplays their specs and uses their feature set to their best advantage," he adds. "That's just part of the game. But messing with someone's career is just unethical."