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Lies my vendor told me: Tech relationships gone wrong

By Cara Garretson
March 25, 2011 06:00 AM ET

But the story doesn't end there. After leaving the county of his own accord in 2008 to start LifeBridge International, a service firm that designs travel programs for personal enrichment where he is now CTO, Prosser heard through back channels that executives at the outsourcer claimed that they had gotten him fired.

That kind of gossip, he says, was inappropriate. More important was the question of the company's competence. "I don't care who you are," Prosser says. "What matters is, can you get the job done?"

Vendor visibility obscured by the cloud

In this era of cloud computing, it can be tricky for IT buyers to figure out who they're really purchasing services from, and therefore who is ultimately responsible when things go wrong. The vendor from which customers buy a cloud service -- such as storage or email -- often is the customer of yet another cloud service supplying infrastructure for that service. Given all that, determining the cause of a problem can be difficult and frustrating for IT departments.

About a year ago, a cloud storage provider suggested to StenTel Transcription and Catuogno Court Reporting that the company buy its services both for internal use and to resell to Catuogno's reporting and transcription customers.

Catuogno already had some experience providing technology services to its customer base with an encrypted email offering and thought adding storage services would create a new line of business, says CIO Blake Martin.

"The demos looked slick, the vendor made great promises, and we thought we had done our due diligence," says Martin. "After deploying, we found out that the service was a lot less mature than we had thought. We had a lot of issues getting it properly configured. We felt a bit abandoned."

What's more, during the sales process, the cloud storage provider misrepresented the depth of its relationship with a second company, the one that actually developed the core technology behind the service. When Catuogno ran into trouble, the cloud company didn't have enough clout with the core vendor to bring about an effective resolution.

"It's not that they were unresponsive. It's that they couldn't address the problems themselves and they didn't have enough influence" with the core technology developer, Martin says.

Catuogno stayed with the service for about seven months before giving up, and the company is now regrouping to decide whether it wants to try using and reselling another cloud vendor's storage services.

The incident taught Martin to get a clear understanding upfront of what the vendor is providing itself and what its partners are bringing to the table. "The lesson we learned is to really understand and explore the relationship between who you're buying from and who provides what that vendor is selling," he says.

Sometimes the buyer is to blame

To be fair, it's not always exaggeration or half-truths on the part of the vendor that leads to buyer disappointment; sometimes it's due to a lack of education, research or comparative shopping on the customer's end.

A.G. von Luternow, a Georgia-based tech consultant, says he's seen clients in a hurry to make a purchase wind up with a bad case of buyer's remorse.

One retailing client wanted to purchase cataloging software but evaluated only one tool. The company decided to go with it without first checking with von Luternow.

The retailer ended up having to make some significant hardware investments to be able to run the software. It also wanted to integrate the new software with desktop applications, which the product didn't support.

"They chose the wrong tool because they only looked at one, and now it really doesn't work the way they wanted it to," says von Luternow. "The vendor didn't misrepresent the product -- it does everything they said it would. The issue is that the people who were choosing the tool lost track of what problem they were trying to solve. And now they are stuck with it."

Garretson is a frequent Computerworld contributor from the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached at caragarretson@gmail.com.

Read more about IT Leadership in Computerworld's IT Leadership Topic Center.



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