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When you are evaluating applications to install on your servers, or even SaaS applications, how much importance do you give to the size of the software company that develops and supports the product? Of course a one or two person operation might be suspect. But we debate in-house about whether it's better to go with a big vendor or a smaller one, other things being equal. A big vendor has more resources, but smaller companies can be more responsive. Look how useful ServerFault is, and I believe they have just four people!

So how important is size? Does a 30 person company give enough comfort? 300 person? 3,000 person?

Thanks!

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6 Answers 6

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Size is often not a reliable measure of how well they will provide, develop and support the software you need. No matter the size, companies may change direction, fail, change product ranges, be taken over, replace a product with one inimical to your needs.

A very small company may be more vulnerable than a large one to loss of a key member of staff or irrecoverable failure from flood, fire, ... but large companies may lose, or be willing to sacrifice, a small unit for 'the greater good' ... and this may not equate to your best interests.

Where possible an exit strategy, including an alternative that can be rolled out in time to keep your business afloat, can make life more comfortable. If you don't have that then the unexpected problem can rapidly become a catastrophe (just one recent example: http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/25.73.html#subj4)

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We have the same debate here at the university where I work. In general we choose the application that best fits our need regardless of the size of the organization behind it. All things being equal we will go with the vendor who's support we like best. This is especially true when we bring in trial versions of things and actually give the support environment a good test along with the software.

For things like ERP application plugins, smaller vendors can be very helpful because they're more responsive to our wants and needs. Provided they have proven that they have enough support structure to solve our issues.

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Exactly. Smaller companies can customize and improve more rapidly than the larger corporations or business. This isn't always true, but it's certainly been my experience. –  Stefan Kendall Aug 13 '09 at 18:55
2  
Yes, do give their tech support a trial before making a huge commitment. The company that wrote our customer database was made of about 3 or 4 people who were basically totally unprofessional. Anytime we tried to get technical support from them, we'd get confusing, hurried, one-line answers that were utterly unhelpful. And anytime we requested changes (that we were promised would be done in a timely manner!) 3/4 of the time they never happened. The one time we got any results from that request, the changes were totally unsuitable for us. It was a waste of time in the end. –  Ernie Aug 13 '09 at 21:32

Yes and No. The size of a company often indicates its success and ability, but companies that become holders for smaller companies often screw-up the original product or replace its small, active support team with larger, more intrusive support bureaucracies. Small companies can often offer better support and more help, as they're closely tuned to each customer because they're smaller and because they have less customers.

I was recently responsible for investigating a variety of tools, and it turned out that the smallest company was the only company that could solve our business problem and the only company that responded to questions promptly when we asked them. As it turned out, choosing the smaller company was cheaper, more effective, and definitely better in the long run (free updates for life, with support contract?!) than the competitor large companies.

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Depends on how many solutions are available on the market for a particular necessity and how critical the process is that the software is supporting. If I'm purchasing software to support a critical business process then I want to make sure that the company I buy from is going to be viable and be providing support 1 year, 5 years, 10 years down the road. In this sense it's not so much the size of the company but rather the history of the company and its reputation.

One-off applications that are more utility things I tend not to care so much about. Also true for when I'm not going to require support.

Smaller vendors have the risk of being quickly overwhelmed if their product takes off of if they get a new customer that is very large. This sometimes gives me a bit of the willies.

On the other hand, smaller companies tend to have a smaller product set and are more focused on that then having to split their attention between multiple things.

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I'd pick whichever application best meets the need and requirements of the business, regardless of company size. Before implementing the application, however, I'd make sure the back-end which hosts the application is scalable so that the application can continue to run smoothly, whether the company has 4 employees or grows to 4000 employees.

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I've dealt with my share of both small, medium and large companies and I've seen no correlation whatsoever to the quality of their product nor their support or longevity with regard to their size. Both extremes have examples of truly awesome support and products, and complete failures and brain-deadness... find other metrics ^^

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