Working with IT vendors is a fact of life for every IT professional, ranging from hardware vendors like Dell, IBM, and Fujitsu, to software and cloud providers like Microsoft, Google, and more. They often provide invaluable products and services that make IT run more smoothly and effectively.
That said, I’ve heard more than my fair share of horror stories about what some system administrators have gone through when working with vendors. These tales of woe range from poor service and lackluster support, to avoidance of responsibility (“It’s a hardware problem! No, It’s a software problem!”), to company failures that impact their customers, such as the well-documented demise of cloud storage vendor Nirvanix.
Over the course of the last week or two I’ve heard from more than a dozen system administrators about what they hated about IT vendors, and the result is what you see here. Not all of the admins I spoke with were willing to go on the record, and in many cases I’ve changed names and/or vendor names to protect the innocent, but what emerged is a baker’s dozen of the most egregious and frustrating things about vendors that drive IT administrators crazy.
Feel free to add your own harrowing tales of IT vendor frustration in the comments section below this post.
A common refrain I heard from many admins was that vendor sales reps were often clueless about even the surface technical details of the products they were selling, or sometimes too lazy (or just too interested in the next sale) to make the effort to learn.
“Shifting the responsibility to someone else is my answer to what I hate about IT vendors,” said admin Ian D. He also provided a real-world example of what he was referring to: He was speaking with a software vendor about whether their product worked with one of the leading hypervisor architectures, and the rep — instead of knowing the answer immediately — suggested to Ian that he contact the hypervisor vendor and ask them if the software vendor’s product would work with it.
Petri IT Knowledgebase forum member Cruachan has had a similar experience with “…vendors that don’t listen to your requirements and try to get you to buy their latest product regardless of whether or not it does what you need.”
Another common complaint was vendors that make grand promises before the sale, then admit that the feature is only partially implemented in the current version and will be added at a later date. “They sell the world but don’t deliver, and say ‘Oh, the next version does that…'” said system administrator Scott V. New features are often being added to new products, but the combination of ignorant sales reps with pressure to make sales often leads admins in the lurch.
This one is as old as the first PC that ran software, most likely. Several admins mentioned the old, “It’s a software problem! No, it’s a hardware problem!” endless loop when trying to get a technical issue resolved.
Poor and overly generalized documentation was another common complaint, as many vendors only provide generic documentation that may not be helpful in many cases. “They’ll send you their ‘best practices’ documentation, but they won’t take the time to specifically tailor that to your organization,” says Scott V. “I could have just downloaded that.”
This one is a complaint that is often heard in other industries as well: After the sale has been made, support from the vendor sales team, trainers, and support staff suddenly starts to dry up or becomes increasingly difficult to get access to. Scott V. singles out IT training vendors for often being non-responsive after in-person or online coursework has been paid for. “I love training vendors who give you their email address but never answer after the class is over.”
Petri IT Knowledgebase forum moderator wullieb1 mentions one type of interaction with vendors that never seems to diminish after the sale has been made: “Vendors that contact you asking if they can send you a whitepaper then spam you constantly after that.”
Another complaint dealt with vendor reps — particularly sales staff — that vociferously bad-mouth and condemn products or services from another vendor. “I love it when vendors put down the other guy,” said Scott V. “They’ll say ‘Well, if you used our product instead of the piece of junk product you bought….’ Scott says that is especially irksome, mainly due to the fact that admins are often asked to implement and support products and services that they may not have had a role in buying. “Because I’m just the guy who has to support it, not the guy that purchased it!”
Network administrator Mark W. gives props to vendors who honestly recommend and suggest solutions from other vendors. “Very rarely do [vendors] actually say, ‘Well, it can get close, but there are better options out there’ or ‘That’s really not something this is designed to handle.’ Notable exceptions to that rule in Mark’s own experience include Cisco, Ipswitch (WhatsUp Gold), and Riverbed. “They’ve all had the decency to admit their products’ failures, shortcomings, and general “you could probably force it to do that, but you’re not going to like the result” things,” Mark said. “That’s why I recommend them to others.”
This complaint — products or services being improperly configured after the sale — is related somewhat to the one about vendors vanishing after money has changes hands, but enough admins mentioned this as frustrating to convince me to give its own entry in our IT vendor list of shame.
System administrator Chuck G. told me about the problems he faced with a large storage vendor after his company purchased a storage array. “Unfortunately, it came with the wrong modules to connect to our datacenter. Then they shipped the wrong modules. Then they shipped the wrong module, [which was for a] different system altogether. Then came the email from the newest rep assigned to resolve their incompetency,” Chuck G. said. “He then says, ‘…there are only 4 types of module, and we have tried 3 of them. Please select the one you want from the list below.’ Really?! Then, to throw dirt in our face, I received an email about an important firmware update. I can only consider my options on where to put that.”
A common complaint from many admins I spoke was poor telephone technical support, primarily from companies that outsourced call centers as a cost-saving measure. “Their cost-cutting is not my problem,” said IT administrator Jon O. “I don’t have a problem working with their staff in places like Southeast Asia, but I am not going to take a 5:00 am meeting because it’s conducive to their schedule. I’m the client, and they work for me.”
In addition to vendors often pinching pennies on telephone technical support, some admins pointed out just how difficult vendors make it to get access to online technical support. Scott V. asked “Why do I have to log in to search your knowledge base?”, while other admins I spoke with mentioned vendor technical support sites that had missing/404’ed support pages, buried/hard-to-find technical support numbers, outdated information, and the need to enter customer order numbers and/or serial numbers to get access to support. One Petri reader told me that “It’s almost as if they’re trying to make it as difficult as possible for me to get support for their products.”
While some has been written about the potential advantage of using products from mainly one vendor in order to give admins “one throat to choke,” several Petri readers mentioned the dark side of giving one vendor too much control over their IT infrastructure. “Microsoft’s Software Assurance and VMware’s vRAM [tax] are two graphic examples of shamelessly exploiting loyal customers,” said Jon O. “Luckily VMware righted its wrong [by changing their licensing], and we have viable alternatives to Microsoft.”
Vendor sales reps behaving badly is a common theme in the admins I spoke with. “When you have to resort to dirty tricks to make a sale, bad things can happen,” said Jon O. “[Hardware vendor] and [storage vendor] tried pulling this stunt on me and my boss when they felt they weren’t going to close a deal. The storage vendor sales guy actually went so far as to find out the country club our COO golfed at and met him on the tee to tell him that his IT staff was making a bad decision! Needless to say, we were more than a little angry. The storage vendor was disqualified (with extreme prejudice) from contention and the hardware vendor was put on probation.”
Sometimes a “buy the cheapest” procurement approach used by management can give admins heartburn, especially when dealing with shaky vendors with questionable balance sheets. Theresa F., an IT manager for a mid-sized company, once was asked by her boss to buy they cheapest hardware firewall available. “[An engineer from the firewall vendor] came in a couple days later and installed and configured it. Then he said, ‘Oh, by the way, our company is filing bankruptcy tomorrow. Good luck finding someone to support you.’
Rounding out our baker’s dozen of IT vendor gripes is one about external consultants, who are sometimes overpaid to provide rudimentary advice. Throughout my years of talking to admins, a common complaint has been the tendency of company management to bring in external consultants when management doesn’t agree with the decisions being made by the internal IT staff. While consultants can often provide expertise that isn’t available in-house, they also can sometimes provide little value.
One admin related the following tale: “Management hired external consultants. Their first bit of advice was to follow some deployment best practices that they found on the Internet. Little did they know that those best practices were written by someone on our internal team.”
Question of the day: What do you hate most about working with IT vendors? #sysadmin
— Petri (@petri_co_il) May 29, 2015
So do you have some vendor horror stories to share? I’m sure other Petri readers would love to hear about your experiences, so please add a comment to this blog post, or contact me on Twitter or Google+. You can also catch up on my posts in the Petri IT Knowledgebase forums.