Can You Trust Configuration Management Vendors and Consultants?

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Kyle Swensen, vice president of IT at Academy Mortgage, recently started a conversation on LinkedIn where he asked the question all of us in the configuration management world will ask at some point in our careers: Can you trust vendors and consultants?

I have been on both ends of this spectrum as a consultant who dealt with vendors and as an employee on whom vendors and consultants have called in my workplace. I think you have to deal with each employee and vendor separately, though there are some similarities in the approach you choose. At times, the vendor may have its consultants on site at your business as part of the implementation of your configuration management system.

Vendors  Vendors have one thing on their minds when they visit you: They want to sell you a product or service. Although there are plenty of vendor horror stories out there, most vendor and consultant engagements are probably successful. No matter how much vendors talk about partnerships and success, keep in mind that they are only interested in those things as they apply to increased sales.

If you think I am simply bashing vendors and salespeople, I am not. I know that in the IT industry there are honest and ethical vendors and salespeople who are genuinely interested in your success. Just keep in mind: Vendors are there to make money, plain and simple. It’s what earns them higher commissions and keeps them employed.

Your approach to dealing with vendors should be similar to dating: Get to know them first before you ask them to marry you. You should test drive the vendors’ products, get familiar with other people’s opinions of them and their product, and find out whether the product has helped companies overcome challenges. Investigate, do your due diligence, and, most importantly, if a vendor make a claims, get it in writing.

Last, but not least, not only should you get a proof of concept, but you should have the vendor demonstrate that its service works in your environment and will give you a good return on investment.

Consultants  I have often heard it said that if you have a consultant on site, it’s because you don’t possess the consultant’s knowledge and you need his expertise. I think this is true to an extent. However, I have been in places where an employee has said something that was ignored; then the consultant said the exact same thing and was heralded as a genius.

That is not to say that there is no place for consultants in an organization; sometimes they are needed and extremely valuable. Remember that you might have the expertise in house and not even realize it.

Just like vendors, the consultants should have specific direction on what they are supposed to achieve and what their deliverables are. Be aware that some consultants, like vendors, also have ulterior motives. They may want to sell you more services. Unfortunately, like vendors, there are horror stories involving consultants. We should always be on guard when vendors and consultants show up.

Conclusion  I am not advocating that vendors or consultants be treated with distrust, malice, suspicion, or disrespect. There are bad consultants and good consultants, good vendors and bad vendors, and good employees and bad employees. We all have baggage and we all have issues.

Just remember that your job is to protect your company—and the vendors’ job is to promote their company and themselves. That’s what keeps the lights on at every business.

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Joe Townsend

Joe Townsend has been in the configuration management field for twelve years. He has worked for CNA Life Insurance, RCA, Boeing, UPS, and in state government. Joe has primarily worked with Serena tools, including PVCS Version Manager, Tracker, TeamTrack (Mashups), and Dimensions. He is an administrator for WebFocus and supports Eclipse users.