Is Vendor Lock-In still an issue?

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5 min read

Times are changing, trends are developing faster and faster and the 21st century seems to be the century of agility and flexibility. That's why no one wants to be stuck with one solution, system or platform.


  1. What's a vendor lock-in
  2. Data Gravity
  3. Low-Code
  4. How to avoid vendor lock-in

What's a vendor lock-in?

In general, a vendor lock-in occurs when a customer is stuck with a product, software or service because a migration or switch would be too costly, difficult, risky, or resource-intensive.

Although costs are usually the most cited reason for a vendor lock-in, other challenges can be just as much of a hindrance. Whether data migration is too complex, specific functionalities or integrations don't exist in other solutions or your other systems are so intertwined with the solution that it's next to impossible to simply switch it out - no one wants to be stuck with a solution.

For hardware and gadgets, vendor lock-in often occurs, when necessary equipment (such as cables, ink cartridges, batteries) only works with a product from the same brand. Apple is quite known for this lock-in and nearly all main printer companies make the lives of their customers more difficult by forcing them to use their (more expensive) branded ink cartridges.

Technology lock-ins

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A quite fascinating concept is also the "technology lock-in" which describes the power that a dominant technology has over its users not due to hardware limitations or migration issues but simply because people, companies and infrastructures are more used to them and therefore would have issues changing to lesser known and more "alien" alternatives (think of Linux or any other keyboard setup that is not QWERTY).

The technology lock-in, however, usually is more an overall market topic and does not affect companies as much who are more concerned about vendor lock-in when it comes to holistic, connected platforms and systems such as their CRM where a lock-in could massively impact scalability, flexibility and individual development.

According to Statista, 53% of all survey participants thought it was essential to avoid cloud vendor lock-in in 2019. However, in 2022, it was only companies thought it was only 47%. This result does raise the question whether the topic has become less important because it is actually less of an issue, because it is less common or whether other issues are simply more pressing.

So, let's take a look at the software landscape and see if and where vendor lock-in can still keep companies from growing and developing.

Data Gravity

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Brian King explains the data gravity challenge in context of the vendor lock-in as a sort of data black hole that makes it impossible to migrate. The more (important) data is used within a system, the more likely it is that other applications, services workflows and even more data are connected to it which in turn affects its migration because everything else will shift, once you "rip" the data away (via The New Stack).

This is a very modern problem, since we use and work with more data than ever before. In fact, I would say that this lock-in issue is not even closely related to any specific vendor but rather to the nature of our current IT ecosystems which are networks of different systems, connections, workflows, and applications.

However, King writes that this "natural phenomenon" becomes worse if the vendor technology is proprietary which makes it more difficult to connect other systems with it. Standards make it easier to evade the data gravity because they enable swifter migrations of processes, data and systems. Open-source systems are therefore attractive even for big tech companies such as Microsoft which is working with open source on their integration and developer platform Azure to enable their customers and allow for more flexibility.


Back to overview

Brian Fleming writes for Planet Crust, that the newfound freedom of low-code/no-code app development does have the caveat that it's often integrated in a very closed-up ecosystem tied to a specific vendor (e.g., Microsoft Power Platform). Of course, most of these vendors offer ecosystems that are vast enough to develop an infrastructure within these system landscapes and even enable a much easier data migration than only a few decades ago, but for applications built within a low-code/no-code platform, it's much more difficult to simply "take" these apps along with you onto another platform.

"Migrating apps and data to a different environment comes with great complexity and, in most cases, any customized apps have to be reconfigured from scratch."

Now, depending on the type of apps, this might not be a big issue, if these can be defined as functionalities and specifications requests for the "next" system such as automations, reports, etc. Additionally, if the ecosystem is allowing you flexibility with integrations and individual customizations, you might not even want to change it anytime soon.

How to avoid vendor lock-in

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There's not one sure way to avoid a vendor-lock in, since there are many different ways, it can put your IT landscape in a corner. Additionally, it depends on how you use a system, how much it is integrated, connected and customized, how your data is being managed and what has been contractually defined.

Check the small print - make sure that the vendor not only ensures a swift data export but also exports them in formats that make it easier to migrate.

Think ahead - when you add services, applications and integrations from a vendor, ask about and define an exit strategy to see how the vendor's technology supports it.

Open source is your friend - as previously mentioned, open source can alleviate the data gravity challenge and make it easier to migrate.

Mix it up - not relying on one single vendor, mixing clouds and different solutions usually can make it easier to swap out different parts and systems, "beware, however, of having too much fragmentation", warns King, since too many integrations can also increase overall complexity and maintenance efforts (as well as error sources).

Include all your stakeholders - make sure to include not just business units or just your IT team in the decision process for new systems but connect them with each other to work out both business and technological requirements before making a decision.

Our experts can help you migrate from your legacy/old system to a new one. We support the evaluation, implementation and customization and provide technological and strategic consultations for a scalable, flexible solution.

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by Juliane Waack

Juliane Waack is Editor in Chief at DIGITALL and writes about the digital transformation, megatrends and why a healthy culture is essential for a successful business.

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