How to avoid vendor lock-in in a web project

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Many of our customers have had bad experience with one or more vendors in their web projects. What they’ve learned the hard way is that a vendor may provide substandard service resulting in the customer wanting to change vendors to get better service. But changing partner is not always easy as many website owners find themselves locked into their current vendor.

North Patrol is a consulting firm specialized in the design of digital services and information systems. We shape ideas into a vision and service concept, find the best architectural and technological solutions, design a functional user experience, and compete to find the ideal partner for implementation work. We do not sell implementation projects, nor do we sell licenses; we are genuinely on the side of the customer.

23 January 2013

Sami Kalanen

In this situation the customer is completely dependent on one vendor for their service and unable to easily transition to a competitor’s service. Vendor lock-in is usually the result of proprietary technologies that are incompatible with those of competitors, or contracts that limit the customer’s rights to use services provided by a third party. This situation does not have to be an intentional attempt by the vendor to restrain their client’s choices, but lack of long term planning can lock a customer into a vendor without intent on either side.

Vendor lock-in and dissatisfaction with the vendor is one of the main reasons for many expensive website renewal projects and CMS platform changes: To be able to get rid of your vendor you may have to build a new website from scratch.

Here are our tips for avoiding vendor lock-in in your next web project.

Choose your CMS wisely

Many people seem to think that choosing an open source CMS is the answer for all vendor lock-in problems. Having an open source platform may indeed be part of the solution, but they are not without issues.

First, whether you use open source or commercial product, the most important thing is to choose a CMS product that has more than one active vendor in your country or region. Also make sure that the product is actively supported by a separate software company or an open source community. It’s also smart to choose widely used platform technologies to be sure there is enough knowledgeable workforce available.

Second, to avoid unnecessary tailoring, analyze your requirements and choose a product that best serves your needs out of the box (and is easy to integrate to your other systems). The less tailored functionality you require, the less dependent you are on the company that did the tailoring.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

When planning website procurement, it is easy to be tempted to buy the whole web solution from a single vendor. Especially the smaller players can offer very cost effective packages that include their own CMS product, planning, implementation and hosting.

But if you want make sure that the lifecycle of your website is not dependent on a single vendor, it is better to split the procurement between several parties:

  • Recruit enough of your own resources to manage the website and co-ordinate the partners.
  • Use a digital agency or consulting office to plan your website’s concept.
  • Select a CMS product that is supported by a separate company or active open source community and that has a many implementation partners to choose from.
  • Choose a good implementation partner that has a lot of experience on your selected platform. Make sure that they are also able to support you after the first project.
  • Do not have your website hosted by the implementation partner. It is much easier to change the implementation partner if the solution is hosted elsewhere (e.g. separate hosting service or cloud service).

If you are not happy with one of your partners, it is much easier to make changes if you can continue working with the others.

Protect your rights with a contract

If the business relationship with your vendor goes sour, it is important that you have a contract that allows you to move on with another vendor. To avoid vendor lock-in there are few issues that are important to consider when negotiating a contract:

  • Require comprehensive technical and process documentation for your solution.
  • Require intellectual property rights for the all the material made for you, including documentation, visual identity, source code, etc.
  • Retain ownership for all your own data and make sure the data is available to you in a usable format.
  • Require frequent delivery of all updated material (even if you feel you don’t need it).
  • Require rights to further develop the solution by yourself or a third party.
  • Describe clear rules of termination.

It is always difficult to change the partners in the middle of the website’s lifecycle but it will be much easier if you have followed the advice in this article. Avoiding vendor lock-in is mostly a case of being aware of the risks and making choices that let you keep your options open.

Sami Kalanen

Sami Kalanen, M.Sc. (Eng), is an expert in project planning, requirement specification, and tendering.

Sami consults with customers on project preparation and definition of requirements, and supports customers in competitive bidding and oversight of vendors’ implementation work. His areas of specialisation include broad, technically challenging web projects and competitive bidding in the public sector.

Sami has been working with web projects since the mid-1990s. Earlier in his career Sami worked in IT procurement at a large industrial company, in management roles at software vendor companies, as Managing Director and a partner at an independent consulting firm and as product manager for a telecommunications operator.


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We are a team of ten consultants, all of whom are experienced designers and technology experts. Every year we design and prepare over 50 different online services and information systems. Our customer satisfaction is very high (9.5 out of 10), and we have helped many customers transform their digital services.

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How we differ from our competitors?

  • We specialize in digital service design

    We specialize in high-quality design and requirements specification of digital services. Our mission is to help customers succeed in their software project by creating the best possible foundation for implementation – whether it is an agile implementation done inhouse, a project done with a partner, or a publicly tendered project.

  • We don't sell coding or licenses

    Many software companies recommend software solutions that they also implement themselves. We don’t do that. We don’t do software implementation projects or have partnerships with technology providers. Our perspective on the software market is broad, as it should be for our customers. Our goal is always to find the best possible software solution for our customer, whether it’s a custom-built solution, a SaaS service, an open-source platform, or a combination of these.

  • We are realistic and forward-thinking

    We design digital service concepts, implementation methods and architectures that are sustainable and can be further developed. We place great importance on the feasibility of software solutions, the availability of good partners and the predictability of costs.

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