Whether you are working in a complete custom software development shop with little vendor interaction or a technology integration shop with vendor solutions integrated with other vendor solutions on top of yet other vendor solutions, you will have to manage vendor relationships to some degree as an IT manager in a MidWestern company. This series looks at the complex arena of IT vendor management and offers some tips to make the arduous process a bit less arduous and possibly discover some additional benefits along the way.
Vendor Management Categories
- Role of the Sales Rep
In the previous article , we explored this role more deeply and how, as an IT manager or IT engineer in a MidWestern company, you need to partner with this role to be successful in delivering you and your team’s services to the company. We established the notion that as either an IT manager or IT engineer, instead of bolting for the nearest keyboard, there is benefit to spending five minutes introducing yourself to the Vendor Sales Cheese and giving him or her a clear understanding of your role within the company and how you are linked to the product or service the Vendor Sales Cheese is representing. We left off suggesting that this brief exchange will pay off in tactical dividends. So, enough with the preview, what are these so called dividends?
IT Engineer Dividends
In short, someone to suck into your troubleshooting effort to get you the technical expertise you need without having to sit on the phone on endless hold finding it yourself. Someone you can say: “Hey, I did everything I was supposed to do to get help and I am stuck. Get someone who can speak at my level that knows your product and can help me get this working ASAP.” Take this typical scenario:
A technical problem makes its way through your business call center through the IT technical support helpdesk to your inbox. Based on the brief explanation of the problem and the levels of “reboot your PC and try again” and “close your browser, clear your cache and try again” that have been tried with no success, this hypothetical situation suggests you are going to have to roll up your sleeves and figure this out because likely, no one else can in the company. So, after much wailing and grinding of teeth, you are able to reproduce the problem in a test environment and have ruled out everything except the FlimFlam product. From everything you can tell, you can now get the problem to occur at will, but all the FlimFlam system does is throw an “Error Code 57: Process died unexpectedly”. The almighty Google is no help with error code 57. The vendor’s tech support web site or “knowledge base” (which you have now dismissed as an oxymoron) completely mocks you with no reference whatsoever to error code 57. So, no instant problem resolution gratification today, you have to log in to the vendor’s support web site with your company’s magic trouble ticket account to open a support issue. You have been down this road plenty of times before, so you succinctly enter the exact end user steps to reproduce the problem and generate an error code 57. You cut and paste in a copy of the system log that says “yep, I’m definitely throwing an error code 57 … and unexpectedly as well!” You provide your platform and vendor product version, revision, and patch level down and dump the configuration out to the final detail. You get back a trouble ticket number which you write down in the false hope your next email from the vendor’s support site will have the magic cure.
Off to lunch at the default route … err, food court at the mall
When you get back to your desk, you see an email from the vendor’s support site indicating your ticket has been closed. You log back into the vendor’s site to see the last ticket status entry read:
“Upgrade to the latest version by applying patch 59837”
You switch over to the download tab and punch in “patch 59837”. You quickly skim the release notes only to find absolutely no reference to error code 57 or anything that even resembles the problem you reported. You’ve played this game many times before. But you know, you have to play it or you get stuck at this level in the game, forever unable to advance. So, you download patch 59837. You install it in the test environment. No install errors. You re-test the system and low and behold, on the first attempt, you generate error code 57 with the same “unexpected-ness”. So, you go back to the vendor support site. You re-open your ticket; indicate you did exactly as told with no success. Again, you’ve been down this road, so you re-state the platform and product versions showing the new patch applied. You re-attach the log files and a dump of your configuration settings. You re-attach the steps to create the error. You raise the ticket to highest priority level you can. You submit it back to the vendor.
Time goes by.
People in the company, including your boss, start asking: “Hey, when is that problem going to get fixed, people are complaining.” or “customers are getting irritated” or “we are starting to experience high call center call volume related to this problem.” Or whatever constitutes the inter-company fervor building to where you will soon be joining conference calls to explain what is going on and where things are at … rather than being allowed to actually fix the problem.
In anticipation of that first “please join the problem resolution conference line” alter, you re-check your ticket status online and see:
“Ticket Status = Pending”
… and nothing else.
Your world is about to get even more unpleasant as you see you’re frustrated and exhausted boss heading to your cube.
Wouldn’t it be great to have some human at the vendor to reach out to who is motivated to keep your company happily paying the monthly maintenance fees to help cut through the bureaucracy and get your technical peer at the vendor working on a fix for this problem? Someone who can find that singular vendor engineer, that upon seeing your configuration can immediately go:
“Geez, they are running on OS 34 in 61-bit mode? They need to add the ‘no cache during day light savings time=yes’ setting to their config file or else they will throw error 57 every time someone presses the ‘Q’ then ‘k’ keys.”
Here is where having the contact info for the Vendor Sales Cheese handy and having had that five minute conversation not too long ago with the Vendor Sales Cheese pays big tactical dividends.
Bob the Engineer: “Hey Vendor Sales Cheese, it is Bob at ABC Company. Hey, I am getting the run around on support ticket <blah>. I did everyone as instructed but we are still getting errors from FlimFlam. A whole bunch of managers are going to get together and start talking about this problem with FlimFlam which means they are probably going to call you at some point if this problem doesn’t get resolved. What do you need from me to get a senior tech guy to call me ASAP to avoid this pending mess?” (Note the clever use of language to make your problem the Vendor Sales Cheese’s problem as well.)
The Vendor Sales Cheese doesn’t want to spend time putting out a fire at a customer’s site due to his product or service. He or she wants to out selling their product or service to a new customer. Plus, the Vendor Sales Cheese knows you from that fire minute conversation at which they “Check!” linked you to the top tech guy who knows his stuff and only needs help when something is going horribly, horribly wrong at ABC Compnay. The Vendor Sales Cheese starts lighting fires within his company for get their FlimFlam tech expert on your phone ASAP.
That five minute awkward conversation with the Vendor Sales Cheese pays off big time when that FlimFlam senior tech guy or gal calls you with the magic config file setting that makes the whole problem go away. And equally important, stops you from having to join the company trouble call and spend countless hours trying to explain to a conference call full of managers.
IT Manager Dividends
Ok, I see the value to the IT engineer, but what about the IT manager? I’ll dive into this value proposition in the next article with more MidWestern IT perspectives on the topic of the “Role of the Sales Rep” in the spectrum of vendor management.