Vendor Lock-in: What this practice of some software providers consists of

As the use of proprietary software becomes more widespread, the potential risk of not being able to use more applications than those provided by a single service provider grows. We are referring to the phenomenon of vendor lock-in , which we are going to analyze in detail, as well as the best practices to prevent it. 



What is vendor lock-in

Vendor lock-in occurs when a client is forced to make restricted use of a specific technological solution , such that such restrictions are encouraged or designed by the supplier itself. 

Therefore, the client could not stop using the software, nor move it to another similar competing provider, because such an action would be impossible, unfeasible or excessively complicated.

To understand: it is a type of computer application that “traps” the client in a closed ecosystem: the user loses control and depends entirely on the good faith of the provider. A good faith that can easily be called into question if the retention tactic used is based on restricting the client’s freedom.  

There are examples of vendor lock-in everywhere in B2C businesses : from exclusive video games for a specific platform to permanence with telephone operators, including software environments that prevent the execution of third-party programs or that force the customer to Always use your own (whether they are what the client needs or not).  

How to avoid vendor lock-in

  • Planning . The lack of planning, on many occasions, is usually the culprit that causes the client to find themselves involved in these situations. Vendor lock-in can be avoided in time as long as you have some “plan B” in terms of contracting services.

  • Modular structures . Another solution may be to contract software services only as they are needed, without succumbing to the fear of facing hypothetical future scenarios where approaches such as “I wish I had contracted the complete package” would be possible.

  • Heterogeneity of services . A very smart way to prevent this is to diversify, by system, the acquisition of software products or services, and never depend on a single supplier at any time.

What are the main types

  • Horizontal . It is the inherent difficulty in replacing a product or service with another from the competition: the supplier uses restrictive clauses or penalties to dissuade the customer.

  • Vertical . It refers to the blocking of third-party solutions in the proprietary ecosystem: the provider restricts the execution of non-proprietary applications in the environment it provides to the client.

  • Diagonal . From the customer’s perspective, it consists of confusing loyalty with immobility, argued only from the point of view of price or comfort, and not the adequacy of the contracted services.

In their desire to retain the customer and provide comprehensive solutions, many software applications end up generating vendor lock-in situations, from which the user will find it difficult to escape; Timely planning, scaled contracting of services and diversification of suppliers can help avoid this.