slowly turning to penguins

Vendors: Don't Be a Dick

This post is probably going to feel a bit ranty and may have a bit of profanity, so if that annoys you I apologize and you might want to read something else for a bit.

Vendors, I’m calling you out! Stop being dicks!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand you can’t run an IT endeavor without the vendors. Even if you have a crack team it’s all but inevitable. You’re going to run into some industry specific software, audit requirement, or the like that will force you to engage a vendor. Do we really know everything about every niche solution the organization requires? The entire thing can’t effectively be DIY. When dealing with vendors though, it’s important to know that they are not your friend, and can actually be harmful.

I’ve been in the field a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve seen vendors attempt to bribe employees (fail and succeed). I’ve seen vendors outright lie about their features or competitors. Vendors have circumvented business processes for procurement. They’ve harassed employees, sabotaged careers, and even bypassed whole departments. It’s a cut throat world, but here’s a tip; if you’re doing those shady things your time working with me will be short.

Let’s Talk About Joe

I once worked for a place where we had a fake employee named Joe. He had a voicemail and email address. If you cold called us for sales, we would transfer you to Joe. The IT director would review the calls and emails on occasion, but generally ignore most of the noise. One day, after directing a call to Joe, we receive a call back. The guy on the other end proceeds to tell us how Joe loved the idea of their product and asked what the next step was to cutting that PO.

Granted, fake employees make that sales job harder and might encourage this

The Case of the Jogging CFO

Once upon a time I was doing an in depth assessment of various spam filtering solutions. I had built an in house box off of Gentoo, SpamAssassin, Amavisd-new, Postfix, etc… and was comparing it against most of the industry leaders. I was piping real spam we had received and real legitimate mail through each solution and comparing accuracy metrics. Upon the test conclusion, I informed the vendors that we were proceeding with our in house solution because it was more accurate than most of their offerings and cheaper. The vendor lived near our CFO and saw him jogging one Sunday morning. He ran out of his house, ran down the CFO and proceeded to tell him what a horrible mistake we were making and how we were going to cost them a fortune and loss of brand reputation. The CFO queried me on the incident and after showing him our test methodology and results, that vendor made it to our blacklist of companies to never do business with.

Churning about in the Rumor Mill

In another instance, a particular vendor had the ear of a certain CTO. When the vendors bid on a project appeared to be losing favor for a competing solution, the vendor began to spread some rumors like, “a key IT engineer was interviewing with a competitor”, and subsequently “his recommendations should be suspect due to said interviews”. The CTO in this case, chose to error on the side of caution removing the engineer from the project. The vendor did not win the bid.

IT is an incestuous industry, and we all share connections. It’s easy for rumors to circulate and can be quite damaging.

They don’t support Syslog

A final story of a vendor, in this case spreading misinformation. In another engagement several vendors were being considered for a solution. One vendor was quite aggressive and had learned who the competing company was in the bid. Armed with this information the vendor began to spread FUD about the competition. It started simple enough, did you see these earning statements? What about this whitepaper or study? How about this key employee leaving for greener pastures? Eventually culminating in lies, in this case the product does not support syslog. A quick check of the website features list would have debunked that quickly, let alone our test process, or interviews with other customers.

I could go on as I’m sure many of you have your own stories. For the sake of brevity let’s move forward. What does it all mean?

So Vendors Are Evil?

Vendor’s aren’t evil per se, but they’re not your friend either. A lot of my colleagues live by their vendors. They’re fanboys and girls for a product. I get it, you’ve invested time and effort in that product. It’s human nature for bias on something you’ve become vested (see the excellent Anatomy of a Fanboy post).

You’ve certified, justified the use and need, and maybe things have gone well for you. Vendors can be helpful. They brought in resources to train you, they helped with the deployment, and they’ve held your hand and given you comfort. If something were to break, you have a neck to wring as the saying goes. You can even make a good career on backing your vendor. There’s also something to be said for that healthy working relationship.

Let’s not kid ourselves though, there’s no altruism here. They’re out to make a profit. At the moment you’re profitable, but as you stress that relation maybe they’re not so engaging and helpful. Perhaps the account manager is focused on the long term and not worried about how much resources they’re investing, but perhaps not.

My advise to the IT professional is this. Don’t be a puppet. Stop making excuses for a vendor deficiency and own it. Deal with it, and move on. Keep in mind that vendor has a focus on profit, and don’t be afraid to test that relationship and compare to other solutions. View vendors as providing a service. You want to hold the keys and you should dictate the terms. It’s not about hurting feelings, it’s about business.

My advise to the vendors is this. Let your product stand on its own. Show me your value without resorting to the things above, and if you can’t deliver on a requirement tell me. I’d rather know what I’m getting into ahead of time, than hate our relationship down the road. Losing one bullet point in a comparison matrix does not mean we won’t pick your solution. However, misrepresenting the solution or resorting to nastiness will guarantee a seat on the loser pile.