IT Vendors: What’s not to like?

We were being entertained at a friend’s house whose interior looked like it had been designed by one of those overly made up, energetic divorcees who only take cash.  The walls were painted a stark white; the overstuffed club chairs and the couch were upholstered in a soft white leather.  The white carpet was thick enough to hide a chiwawa.

The hostess locked askance at me when she saw me seated in the club chair.  Perhaps my outfit did not look good on white.  A paperback which looked out of place lay on the end table next to my glass of Ovaltine.   I picked it up and began to read the back cover to get a feel for the storyline…which got me thinking about writing and authors.

The paperback story filled five hundred and seventeen pages.  Whether they were well-written, whether there was a story nestled inside, could only be learned by reading the book.  I read many books, and I read often, especially when I travel.  When I am unprepared I am forced to purchase a book at one of the shops in the airport concourse.  The purchase decision lasts only as long as it takes to read the back cover—the publisher’s only chance to make a first and last impression.

Those first impressions have fooled me often.  Ten minutes into the book I wind up stuffing it into the kangaroo pouch in the seatback in front of me.  More often than I would like, I find that the person who wrote the book summary on the back flap is a better writer than the person who wrote the book.  The summary writer is able to create an interest in the story and a need to see how it ends, an interest and need for which the book’s author is unable to deliver.

The book is rarely better than the back cover suggests it will be.  Often it is as good, sometimes it is not.  The book summary is the upper limit for what you can expect by way of enjoyment.

It works the same way in business only instead of paperback books they use brochures.  Never trust the brochure.  Whatever is written in the vendor’s brochure is the upper limit of what you can expect to receive.  Those who remember the dismantling of nuclear arms remember the adage ‘Trust, but verify.”  When it comes to dealing with vendors, I suggest ignoring the part about trusting.

Take software vendors for example.  What’s not to like?

The product never leaves you feeling the way you felt after reading the brochure.  Remember the photos?  Attractive people, smartly dressed, ethnically diverse.  Their teeth bleached so white the reflection of the monitor is visible in their incisors.  Seated in their clutter-free offices, they are all smiling.

Did your users look like them when they started to use the product?  Did you get your brochure moment?  In order to find customers, vendors have to position their product in the most positive light.

Maybe there should be a cigarette-like warning printed on every software vendor’s brochure, something like this:

  • We hired the people pictured in the brochure—nobody is ever that happy
  • Most of you will never learn how to use all of the functionality
  • To have any chance of getting the software to do what you need it to do will probably cost you twice as much as you contracted
  • There is no way you will implement in the timeframe you discussed

They know, and we know, nobody implements brochures.  If we did, IT departments would be much smaller.  Maybe that is why vendors give away pens and T-shirts to all of their customers, to soften their sense of guilt.

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