You probably know who signs the paychecks in your organization. Most of us can read an organization chart and figure out who reports to whom. We might even know one or two board members, shareholders or major contributors. But that might not tell you much about who your IT staff is really working for. For lack of information and guidance, many IT staff members become moles in your organization as they further the agenda of major IT manufacturers. Usually this isn’t a matter of maliciousness, but rather lack of clear boundaries, roles and guidelines.
Unlike the ridges pushed up by the moles in your backyard, you won’t be tripping over mounds under the carpeting at work when vendor moles are active. You have to look at staff behavior when vendor-related issues arise. Following are some of the signs that vendors have acquired the hearts and minds of you and/or your staff.
The recommendation without alternatives
Think back to the last time you acquired hardware, software or services for a new system. How many alternatives did you see? If you had only one option, it is very possible you have vendor moles. At the very least, recommendations should be accompanied by the decision’s criteria. Ideally, any recommendation should include at least one or two alternatives to the main recommendation along with pros and cons. This may seem basic, but you might be surprised how many times a request for alternatives is pushed aside with talk of preferred vendors or the ubiquitous “compatibility issues.”
The offer you can’t refuse
We’ve all had technical folk deliver the bad news that we can’t have some required function without a major upgrade. The “offer you can’t refuse” is usually turned into the “recommendation without alternatives,” brushing by the possibility of other solutions to the situation.
Blaming the victim
There are many good technology vendors out there, whose partnership will strengthen your business. But not every vendor issue is the result of some internal deficiency like poorly trained users, slow accounting bureaucracy or that crazy marketing department that can’t decide what it wants. Those instances all occur but so do vendor problems, and if you never see vendor performance included in root-cause analyses, you may very well have vendor moles.
The conference-only training plan
Look at your professional development plans. If the most coveted assignment is an annual vendor’s conference, and some staff have never done any other training, you probably have vendor moles. Certainly vendor conferences are useful sources of future directions and capabilities, especially for your preferred vendors, but a steady diet of vendor-speak can lead to a skewed view of the world.
The gold plate
The gold plate is like those silly spoilers on cars. At the speeds we travel (most of the time) those spoilers have no aerodynamic use. Have you ever received a recommendation for a second processor or an increase in bandwidth without any usage statistics or user complaints to back it up? Capacity planning is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a haven for vendor moles.
Dealing with vendor moles
So you’ve got ’em. Every organization does. What do you do? Did I mention vendor moles are conflict adverse? Heck, they’re even conversation adverse. Ask questions. Have them to talk to you for 10 minutes about a recommendation without repeating exactly what they’ve put in print. Ask your auditors to look at procurement processes (no auditors are NOT just another kind of rodent). Invite your vendor’s competition in, now and then, for a conversation. Have your vendor moles join you, but don’t let them talk. Quality information about business goals and processes, standards, industry-wide trends and about the vendors themselves is the best mole deterrent. The more information you get and give, the harder it is for vendor moles to thrive. You’ll end up with less-expensive IT and a better fit between business needs and technology capabilities.
Byron Glick is a principal at Coherent Partners, LLC, a technology management-consulting firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He can be contacted via the web at www.coherentpartners.com or via telephone at 608/442-0120.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.