Almost every seasoned IT professional has had experience working with IT vendors. From hardware giants like Dell and IBM to software providers such as Microsoft, there is a reason why these companies are multi-million dollar organizations. The products and services they offer are world class and often essential to the effective operation of any IT department. However, sysadmins know all too well the common struggles that they must face when working with IT vendors. Complaints of subpar customer service and lack of project ownership are well-documented concerns in the sysadmin/IT vendor relationship, and it doesn’t take long for frustration to settle in. With this reality in mind, we have compiled a list of the top 5 reasons why sysadmin and IT vendors don’t get along as well as actions one can take to correct each issue.
- Customer Service Reps Not Having Knowledge In Their Own Product
One major inherent problem in working with large corporations is their ‘factory’ style of operation. While sysadmins are likely to be certified experts within their field, the sales representatives that IT professionals deal with are often not as keen to the technical details of the products they are selling. This discrepancy creates a major shift between the two parties when it is the responsibility of the sysadmin to implement quality, fully operational processes while IT vendor reps are numbers-focused and always looking to make that next sale. Whether it’s the inconvenient shifting of responsibilities or the forceful pushing of the latest product regardless of your sysadmin needs, it can be a challenge to maintain an efficient level of communication with uninformed customer service reps.
How to Fix It: It is by no means your responsibility to educate an external customer service rep or outside consultant on their own product. However, there are steps one can take to balance out the learning curve. Your sales/marketing team will ideally have fact sheets about your company ready to go and as a sysadmin, it is smart to have your own documentation in place that a sales rep can quickly learn from. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are paying the vendor for their service and not the other way around, but providing quality information on your own IT processes can help vendors make sure they’re properly aligned with your goals and doing everything they can to make them happen.
- Disappearing Support Post Sale
The classic situation of an IT vendor working around the clock to meet your needs pre-sale and then falling off the face of the earth post-purchase is all too common. Vendor training and support teams are much harder to get access to once the software has been implemented, and this is despite the fact that the most pertinent questions tend to pop up after a few weeks of usage time. Being non-responsive to the requests of a sysadmin that you were previously on-call for 24/7 reflects poorly on IT vendors who should take the concept of customer success very seriously. IT departments pride themselves on being consistent, so a seesaw level of interaction with vendors is a surefire way to create tension between each party.
How to Fix It: The best way to avoid this scenario is by agreeing upon a pre-determined level of post implementation support in the initial scope of work. Payment terms and conditions vary depending on the vendor, but if you never mention the need for training and support access in the beginning of the process, it is likely that you won’t receive it. Don’t let months and months of preparation go to waste by ignoring this aspect when evaluating different IT vendors because support is often needed the most when the vendor is getting set to move on to the next customer.
- Dishonesty About Product Features and Putting Down Competitors
The only thing worse than a sales rep not being equipped with the proper knowledge about their product is them lying about it. With a natural instinct to distract you from service shortcomings, most IT vendors will twist their words around in a positive light since their main motive is to get the sale. This dishonesty only leads to unnecessary frustration as sysadmin are quick to spot out lackluster features which were advertised as valuable product qualities. And when an IT vendor bad mouths a previously instilled software (a service that you may have never purchased, only supported), things turn from bad to worse.
How to Fix It: It may be hard for an IT vendor to believe that you will recommend their services if their product isn’t the answer to your business needs. However, providing (or at least hinting) at this sort of insurance is a highly effective means of pulling the truth out of a suspecting customer service group. Having the integrity to be forthcoming about both the strengths and weaknesses of your product is usually enough to land you in the good graces of a sysadmin, even if you are unable to solve their immediate demands. There is no reason to trust vendors who focus on the cons of their competitors as opposed to the pros of their own services, so gauging that sentiment from the upstart is a solid way of avoiding this headache. But if the sales rep you are working with takes a full disclosure approach, it is worth looking back to them for any future needs that may be more up their alley.
- Configuration Failures
During the selling process, IT vendors sound confident as ever when describing the vast array of features that their product or software has. However, one of the most important aspects of the IT vendor/sysadmin relationship is ensuring a seamless level of configuration upon implementation. But with examples such as modules not connecting to datacenters being a common occurrence after the purchasing process, sysadmins are fully aware of the classic ‘sky high promises but under delivering execution’ scenario. An IT vendor may be extremely successful selling their buzzed about product, but all of the raving reviews mean nothing if there is little compatibility with your existing IT processes.
How to Fix It: Test, test, test. If you find out there are configuration issues with the vendor’s software after the scope of work is officially signed off on, the blame game falls on both sides. Do your due diligence and predict areas where compatibility may not be seamless. By doing this testing in a less pressure environment (aka before you’ve spent budget money), the sysadmin team and vendors can work to solve any issues without serious customer dissatisfaction. You can even take advantage of free trial product offerings (such as Opsview Atom) which you can use for testing to make sure that no drastic roadblocks pop up. The extra configuration research may take some time, but it will ultimately be worth it.
- Corporate Giants Taking Advantage of Their Position
It is no secret that companies such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM offer have a distinct product offering that are sometimes ‘must-have’ applications in order for your IT to run as smoothly as possible. This is a position that corporate giants can take advantage of. With this mind, it is wise to never give one vendor too much control over your IT infrastructure because if you do, it is a hard position to get out of. Shorter implementation time tends to result in overall cost savings, so the last thing you want to hear an IT vendor say to you as a sysadmin is “Well using our new software is your best option because choosing anything else will take months of implementation” because unfortunately, they are usually right. Being able to scale with agility instead of being stuck and committed to one vendor makes the entire organization more efficient in the long run, all thanks to the IT department. And whether it’s intentional or not, the ‘monopoly’ exploitation of loyal customers is sometimes an honest reality when working with the most recognizable IT vendors.
How to Fix It: Don’t be intimidated by these billion dollar companies. Yes, there are certain services that only a Google or Microsoft can offer you. But you, the sysadmin, are the one responsible for maintaining a fully operational IT environment, not the external support rep you have your weekly calls with. There are enough other tools out there that offer viable alternatives (a selection process that is summed up in Opsview’s IT Monitoring Buyer’s Guide), so don’t be afraid to lay down the law if you are not satisfied with the work of a big shot corporate vendor. Even if you are merely just another fish in the sea to the IBM’s of the world, in the IT vendor/sysadmin relationship, they are the ones that work for you.