Yesterday I wrote about the difference between making good decisions and achieving good outcomes. I am reminded of another example of this distinction by a Jim Rapoza eWeek column (July 14th issue), Choose Excellence. He discusses the interplay between innovation and vendor size, complaining that many IT buyers do not consider quality or innovation sufficiently in their purchase decision. Instead, they tend to select products from established vendors, “even if the product is mediocre.” He sights the old saw that “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Yet often smaller, less well-known, and perhaps smaller vendors may offer superior products at lower prices. He does not say it, but these buyers are worried about bad outcomes flowing from their good decisions.

Law firm and department technology managers can face the same issue. When they consider vendor options, they should remember that “big and established” is no guarantee of continuity. For example, one of the first document management products designed for law firms, SoftSolutions, started as an independent company. It was purchased by WordPerfect, which in turn was purchased by Novell. Novell then “upgraded” SoftSolutions in a way that made the product no longer useable by law firms. More recently, Hummingbird, an established technology company, discontinued the development of its Corporate Law Pack product, stranding some 150 or more corporate law departments. (See Ado Over LawPack).

And companies that start small do not always stay that way. When iManage first came to market, some firms were reluctant to consider the product because it came from a software start-up. Yet iManage now is an established player in document management (and is publicly traded).

For me, the lesson is to focus first on the software features and the services the vendor provides. If a particular vendor appears to have the most attractive offering but may be small, most law firms and departments are well-equipped to analyze the business stability and protect their interests (for example, through source code escrow agreements). In short, make a good decision and hope for a good outcome.