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What if you could only drive your car on roads paved by your car’s manufacturer?

While you might laugh, it happens all the time with proprietary software companies.

When you buy a company’s proprietary solution, you agree to its rules. It is their technology after all.

That software may be valuable, but is it worth it?

There will be cases that you’ll need to play by the vendor’s rules. It starts with small compromises but there’s a very real possibility that organizations will make critical decisions based around a vendor’s software rules because “it’s too much trouble to leave.”

That’s how we get vendor lock-in.


What Is Vendor Lock-In?

Your organization buys a vendor’s software. Your organization depends on that vendor for all subsequent updates within that software. It’s incompatible with other software vendors and it would cost too much time, money, and hassle to switch systems.

In short, you’re stuck playing by vendor rules.

Vendor lock-in often happens because of a now-centric cost-benefit trade-off. Does the value of their software eclipse the limitations baked into it? Right now, maybe. However, we rarely think far enough ahead to consider big opportunities on the horizon. Buying software for today is easy. Buying for today and five-plus years in the future requires a thoughtful and ambitious mindset.

There are ways to avoid vendor lock-in.


Dodge Vendor Lock-In With Open Standards

Open standards are the opposite of vendor lock-in. DITA XML is great for a number of reasons, but the foundation of its greatness is that it’s an open standard. It’s supported by a prolific community of contributors, users, experts, evangelists, and compatibilities.

What’s an open standard? An open standard is not owned by a business or person. For instance:

If someone invented a hybridized soccer sport that became wildly popular, it wouldn’t force change to the rules of soccer itself merely because of its popularity or success. In the same way, easyDITA uses the DITA standard, but our software could disappear tomorrow and the DITA standard would still exist unchanged.

Vendor lock-in happens because vendors are businesses! They need to make money. Which is fine.

Where that hurts is when a vendor’s software update (or lack of timely updates) impacts your content and, thereby, impacts your business. Then we return to the trade-off: does the value outweigh the inconvenience?

With an open standard, you don’t need to worry about that. There’s no profit to be gained from an open standard. It’s literally there to be used by people who find it useful.

DITA’s standardized architecture ensures interoperability, which is a big word that means you can use it anywhere. You won’t be able to do this with most software vendors.


Vendor Lock-In Is The Enemy, Not Vendors

This is a good point to end with. This shouldn’t jade how you look at software vendors. They’re doing their job, supporting their own business, and mostly building great products.

Where your decision comes in is whether the product best matches your purpose now and in the future.

You must remain vigilant when entering contractual relationships with vendors. The future of your content is at stake and shouldn’t be ensconced in a vendor’s proprietary technology without thorough vetting.

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Tim Ludwig
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