“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” is a popular phrase, also known as the law of the instrument, which describes an over-reliance on a familiar tool, as opposed to using “the right tool for the job.” In information technology (IT), the law of the instrument is often invoked to justify the need to purchase the right technology to solve a specific business problem.
However, within the IT industry, it has become increasingly difficult over the years to buy the right tool for the job since many leading vendors make it nearly impossible to buy just an individual tool. Instead, vendors want you to buy their entire tool box, filled with many tools for which you have no immediate need, and some tools which you have no idea why you would ever need.
It’d be like going to a hardware store to buy just a hammer, but the hardware store refusing to sell you a hammer without also selling you a 10-piece set of screwdrivers, a 4-piece set of pliers, a 18-piece set of wrenches, and an industrial-strength nail gun.
My point is that many new IT innovations originate from small, entrepreneurial vendors, which tend to be specialists with a very narrow focus that can provide a great source of rapid innovation. This is in sharp contrast to the large, enterprise-class vendors, which tend to innovate via acquisition and consolidation, embedding tools and other technology components within generalized IT platforms, allowing these mega-vendors to offer end-to-end solutions and the convenience of one-vendor IT shopping.
But the consumerization of IT, driven by the unrelenting trends of cloud computing, SaaS, and mobility, is fostering a return to specialization, a return to being able to buy only the information technology that you currently need — the right tool for the job, and often at the right price precisely because it’s almost always more cost-effective to buy only what you need right now.
I am not trying to criticize traditional IT vendors that remain off-premises-resistant by exclusively selling on-premises solutions, which the vendors positively call enterprise-class solutions, but their customers often come to negatively call legacy applications.
I understand the economics of the IT industry. Vendors can make more money with fewer customers by selling on-premises IT platforms with six-or-seven-figure licenses plus five-figure annual maintenance fees, as opposed to selling cloud-based services with three-or-four-figure pay-as-you-go-cancel-anytime monthly subscriptions. The former is the big-ticket business model of the vendorization of IT. The latter is the big-volume business model of the consumerization of IT. Essentially, this is a paradigm shift that makes IT more of a consumer-driven marketplace, and less of the vendor-driven marketplace it has historically been.
Although it remains true that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, sometimes all you need is a hammer. And when all you need is a hammer, you shouldn’t get nailed by vendors selling you more information technology than you need.