The Pivot: Reducing your costs through competition

It’s a tricky decision.  You have two or three possible vendors for a very large software-related project.  Any of them would be good. Your problem is that having chosen a vendor, you know you’ll be stuck with them, effectively, indefinitely. And so in a year or so you’ll no longer be able to use vendor competition to keep your costs down. So what do you do?

You create a 'Pivot'. The Pivot is a piece of software that provides an interface to several vendors.  It prevents your being locked into a single vendor for everything. In some cases it might partition your problem, so that several suppliers can work on different parts of the product at the same time; in others it might allow two complete competing implementations, both of which can be sold under your brand.  Examples in the app development world might be a user interface ‘app’, that talks to several massive back end implementations from different suppliers; or a framework, which allows multiple applets from different vendors to coexist within a single master app.

 

The criteria for a good Pivot, then, are straightforward:

  1. It should be relatively small in function, cost and impact, compared with the code from the major vendors.
  2. It should be provided by a different supplier.
  3. You should own its source code and documentation, so that you’re not locked into the Pivot’s supplier.
  4. And the supplier for the Pivot needs to be excellent at working with other software teams; in particular at defining, clarifying and working with consistent APIs.  Problems with the implementation of the Pivot component will slow up the other vendors’ work, so one wouldn’t want to have to wait long for software releases: thus we’d strongly recommend  they follow an Agile way of working.  But the Pivot supplier doesn’t need a massive development team – that’s for your other suppliers.

Pivots can save a huge amount of money. For example, Vodafone worldwide sells huge numbers of data connectivity devices (USB dongles, Mobile Wi-Fi Devices and similar). Rather than chose a single supplier and use the supplier's own control software, Matt Wakeman of Vodafone chose a software architecture where there was a single 'Pivot' application provided by Vodafone, talking via a Vodafone-defined API to the vendor's software on each device. Thus the Vodafone Terminal Procurement department kept costs down through competition between the suppliers, while the single application ensured that the user experience was the same with all the devices – making support straightforward. It reduced Vodafone’s software development costs and reduced the time to market while keeping the user experience consistent.

 

Pivots need careful design, and excellent architecture to implement; Charles has experience of designing several. Could you use a Pivot? 

Written by Charles Weir, copyright (c) Penrillian Ltd, used by permission.

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