Cross-Industry Wi-Fi Buyers Survey Results
“End users want the flexibility to run what they want, not have it forced on them. The best solution comes from a Wi-Fi supplier who extensively tests their products in the market place and has the technical team to promptly investigate and address any issues.” – IT Manager at a United Kingdom university
Wi-Fi customers now have the choice to purchase both their network and device products from independent network and device vendors or from a single company that makes both products. We asked customers across industries and geographies about the benefits and drawbacks to buying these products from one company. What we found surprised us. While it can sometimes be simpler to deal with fewer vendors, most customers have an over-riding concern about interoperability that tilts them to buying their network from a proven independent network company and their devices from a company that specializes in computers, rather than from one company making both products.
When HP announced their intent to acquire Aruba Networks this spring, their stock dropped and fears surfaced about Aruba losing its ability to innovate. According to Clay Christensen, “study after study puts the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions somewhere between 70% and 90%”. On the upside for HP, if the merger succeeds, their customers will have the opportunity to purchase Wi-Fi gear and computing devices from a single source. This has the theoretical advantage of buying both networking and computing products by opening one purchase order to a single vendor.
To better understand how important the ability to purchase both network and computers from a single vendor might be to customers across industries, we surveyed CIOs, IT directors, and IT managers on the topic. The goal was to learn more about the perceived advantages or disadvantages inherent in mergers and collaborations among network and computer vendors.
The survey encompassed IT purchase decision makers with titles of CIO, director, and manager worldwide across all industries. We included open-ended as well as specific questions. The median organization size was 1,000-5,000 employees, staff, and students, with about 1/5 at more than 10,000 users.
The group on average already owns about 300 Wi-Fi access points per company and expects to purchase another 80 over the next few years. They own on average 4,400 computing devices with plans to purchase another 600. At the high end, 7% of the organizations already own more than 25,000 computing devices and 10% own more than 1,000 access points.
The Importance of Independent Network and Device Vendors
CIOs and IT directors were consistent in responding that interoperability is of the utmost important. As one higher education CIO said, “If vendors focus too much on collaboration, interoperability may suffer. At a university where we have no control over the types of devices being brought to campus, that lack of interoperability would spell certain disaster. It has already happened once before.”
Here are more responses to the question, “Do you see any drawbacks to the collaboration of Wi-Fi and device vendors?”
- Unlikely one collaboration would deliver best-of-breed for both Wi-Fi and devices at the same time.
- Vendor lock-in
- Focus may shift from standards and correctness to “Just buy our products to make it work”
- Price benefit and competitiveness is lost if they belong to same vendor
- May lock us into certain devices. Students like to choose.
- Government procurement policy drives independent bids
- If vendors focus too much on collaboration, interoperability may suffer. At a university where we have no control over the types of devices being brought to campus, that would spell certain disaster. It has already happened once before.
- Compatibility issues
- Potential ‘worst of breed’ solutions for the non-core products
- Lock-in to proprietary standards/features
- Too many eggs in one basket, too much risk
- Sole source procurement can be a pain
- Students always purchase whatever device they are most familiar with
- Buying the best solutions independently usual works out best
The Role of Vendor Collaboration
Computers and networks are often, if not usually, deployed in complex configurations whether at a school, corporate campus, or manufacturing facility. When something goes wrong, the IT staff would like to have one number to call and not be subject to multi-vendor finger-pointing. This can be addressed either by purchasing from vendors who collaborate or by purchasing both the network gear and the computers from an integrator or reseller who understands and can service both types of products.
We asked about what benefits customers perceived to purchasing networks and computers from the same company; and what potential benefits they didn’t believe they would experience. “Having both Wi-Fi and computing devices serviced by the same company (with just one contact for both)” was ranked as the greatest benefit to Wi-Fi and computer vendor collaboration. Least beneficial, according to the survey is, “Buying Wi-Fi and computing devices that are made by different companies, but both branded and sold by the same company”. The majority (67%) agreed with this statement: “There is little benefit in grouping Wi-Fi and computing device purchases, they are separate in our organization.”
IT Managers’ Summary Remarks
We asked those surveyed to provide their overall summary on the topic and here is what they said.
“Different purchasing frameworks operate for these [network and computing] devices, therefore we are likely to use separate companies.”
“For a platform-agnostic school that is not interested in owning more devices (BYOD), infrastructure is essential, but joining computing devices to Wi-Fi provider is pointless. Now, pushing network configuration, and monitoring, without client installation, that is interesting.”
“You can’t excel at everything. Typically companies that specialize in 1 product tend to have a higher quality product than companies that do a little bit of everything.”
“I’m not a big fan of one product fits all – my experience with companies selling off divisions or being bought out brings back painful memories – so do wireless and do it well or do devices and do them well and they will work well together.”
“I believe the best vendors I have for the computer hardware and network equipment are separate.”
“Even with a partnership, we would most likely have some devices brought in from different vendors between Apple, Chrome and Windows. Therefore, the collaboration may help one platform but not all. Also, I have the concern that not as much effort would be put into collaboration with all device makers.”
Buyers of Wi-Fi networks and computing devices demand full interoperability among computing devices and networks. Pairing up vendors not only limits buyers’ options, but potentially constrains interoperability. It is critical that the Wi-Fi network handle all computing devices equally in order to smoothly connect the ever-growing range of corporate and BYOD devices.