Who do you trust? Thirty years ago, enterprises answered that question with three almost-equally cited sources: their primary computer vendor, their network provider (almost always their “interexchange” provider), and their network equipment vendor. This fall, in a group of 158 enterprises who commented, the runaway leading response was “nobody.” Any other option was an afterthought. And while you could say that their first response was perhaps driven as much by cynicism as by reality, you’d then have to wonder how they got so cynical.
This is way more than an exercise in sociology, too. Trust is what guides decisions on tech, and on pretty much any other major investment, for individuals and enterprises alike. “Oh, how I need, someone to watch over me,” as the song goes. Over the years, one thing has remained constant, and that is the fact that enterprise IT pros who can’t find a trusted partner will hunker down on the status quo. They’ll reject new technologies, new players, new anything. Does that sound like what you’re hearing, and maybe doing, this year? When you’re asking how to transform networks in a low-trust environment, the answer you hear is likely “You don’t,” and that sounds familiar to many network professionals, too.
Who do we trust? What about network integrators, analyst firms who publish ratings, people (like me) who write technology articles? Enterprises admit that they use all of these sources, but their views on each are interesting. Network integrators are seen less as strategic partners than as suppliers of installation services, particularly for multi-vendor networks. Analyst firms’ reports are used mostly to justify decisions, not drive them. Technology writers are a mixed bag; most enterprises have some they trust, but they generally don’t trust the group.
If all this sounds like the knell of doom for meaningful network advances, I can cite some more music in a hopeful way. Remember “Everything old is new again”? Trust in 2024 seems to be circling back to the three sources of thirty years ago, with a few important changes. To pull the meaning out of all this, we need to look again at those trusted three of yesteryear.
Back then, roughly three-quarters of the enterprises said they had a “primary” IT vendor. Of those who did, almost two-thirds trusted that vendor more in 2023 than they had in 2020, making this the only category that actually saw trust improve over time. In fact, the primary IT vendor is again the most trusted source of network transformation insight. Enterprises who don’t have a primary vendor tended not to trust IT vendors at all, which is perhaps why they didn’t have one on strategic speed-dial when it comes to transformation planning.
Who did those dominant-IT-less enterprises trust for strategic guidance? Their network vendors and their primary network service provider, in roughly equal measures. That was also true for the one-third of companies who did have a primary computer vendor and didn’t trust that vendor much. But the “equal measures” here weren’t that impressive because fully one-third of both groups couldn’t name any source they trusted. This group, a group we’ve all read about, believed that trust was impossible and only contracts could serve you. There’s a lot of that going around, even when there are trusted vendors, but this no-trust group is, according to some, spending as much on contract lawyers as on technology assessment.