TL;DR: It gauges your vendor’s commitment.
As some of you might have noticed, David Holmes and I released Forrester’s inaugural ZTE evaluation, The Forrester Wave™: Zero Trust Edge Solutions, Q3 2023. If you haven’t taken a look, please do. The research is the first in the industry to tackle the secure WAN space, with probably some surprising results in terms of the positioning of various vendors.
For those new to the Wave graphic: The vendors vertically position on the Y-axis based on their current solution’s capabilities. That’s straightforward — you can easily compare capabilities, since it’s public and available. But the position on the X-axis is harder to wrap your head around. This placement evaluates a vendor’s strategy based largely on information that isn’t publicly available (e.g., a vendor’s direction, plans to execute, details around feature releases, time frames, etc.). This part of the evaluation is very important, not just to understand our ranking, but it’s also something essential for determining your own solution. Why?
Evaluating current capabilities won’t be enough. The vendor might have a great, innovative product today, but will it tomorrow? Networking infrastructure is a long-term investment. You need to make sure that this vendor will continue to innovate and enhance its solution. You will need new firmware releases with bug fixes and enhancements, new modules/hardware such as fiber optics, new management/monitoring, and new automation products to enhance your current investments. These future enhancements and products are part of the overall product’s value. And with all this comes a long list of questions that you must ask: Can this vendor confidently deliver this and at the pace of its competitors? Will it protect its interests or seek out enhancements that will continue to make it the right solution to serve this market? Will it deliver what it says it will deliver based on past behavior? Is it able to deliver on these promises?
To evaluate the vendor’s commitment, don’t use public roadmaps and marketing visions. Those are the least effective. Why? High-level visions and roadmaps are marketing sound bites that can turn as quickly as the market. Almost every vendor roadmap mentions unifying product lines, building security, and enhancing policies. For most, that doesn’t mean a darn thing, as few will deliver on it or will deliver on it for one feature out of hundreds that support each. What’s the alternative? The devil is in the details. If you really want to see where the company is taking the product line, ask for a detailed roadmap, features, and release dates over the next two years. Don’t let anyone tell you that these don’t exist. If it wants your business, then the vendor will show the required materials to you, under nondisclosure agreement, of course.
Why am I bringing this up now, having just gone through the Wave research? Because it was hard. This is where David and I pushed. Having advised clients for years on major network investments and hearing the challenges as promises weren’t met and innovation flatlined, we know that this is what matters. We needed to surface where their priorities are truly at. What do I mean? Most reasonable IT professionals would assume that product managers and marketing professionals manage feature plans with diligence, keeping track of promises and managing those backlogs over time in the event of delays until they come to pass. But that’s not the case.
More accurately, it’s a Thunderdome. Marketing, execs, product managers, and some engineers get in a room together and work out which 10, 20, or 100 top features get attention based on hundreds if not thousands of enhancements, fixes, or new features. Typically, bug fixes are at the top — but not all for varying reasons. Product managers are pitching features for the products they oversee. Just as Mel Gibson jumped, weaved, and dove, product managers maneuver through their counterparts’ own pitches, with engineering pushing back on the feasibility, support asking questions, finance digging into numbers, executives pushing their pet projects, etc. The feature list really comes down to perceived value, time to market, and how the features support the main strategic direction the company is taking for all of its products and solutions. What happens to something that was already promised but didn’t come to pass? Who knows — it’s not being tracked across a long-term strategy. Are there exceptions? Sure. But this reality is all too common, and it leaves customers and their associated promises by the wayside.
So what can you do with this information? More than anything, a roadmap is a list where you can really see where the company is putting its money and what bets it is making. Don’t bank on these actual roadmaps coming to pass, but look at what the larger story infers.
As part of the Wave evaluation, we did just that and more. We also looked at each company’s scope of roadmap, R&D budget, history of innovation, cadence of releases, supporting offerings, pricing flexibility and transparency, partner ecosystem, etc. When you look at the X-axis of the Wave, know that this section was handled with care. I push my clients every day to ask for a roadmap before investing hundreds of thousands — if not millions — into a solution and to really dig in to how committed a vendor truly is. It was only fair that we did the same in our evaluation.
Again, please read the report and know the extra diligence and care we bring to the scoring of the strategy section. If you’re a Forrester client and have questions, please schedule an inquiry or guidance session with either David Holmes or myself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.