With Pepper or Poison?

It’s not particularly new trend. The companies have existed for 20-25 years, or more. Some have just begun, yesterday. I’m talking about “all-round IT service companies”. A typical company describes itself as “providing anything related to information technology”, and that is very close to the actual strategy. The older ones have good ties with hardware providers, in fact they have seen hardware shops come and go. The younger ones got sleeker ties and outfit.

How would one go to describe the field? IT outsourcing is technologically wide, but basically it’s about taking care of all the requirements that a client might have regarding work which involves computers, software and networks. From purchasing, installation, maintenance to all the after-sales activities including recycling and data migration. Most IT shops provide the whole palette, perhaps excluding some specialties like servers, or expensive/complex network devices.

They are competiting on a very densely populated minefield. A slight surprise is that even though PC and other technology has completely blown out of proportions what comes to diversity, still in reality there aren’t that many practical solutions. Why? Because systems have to be interconnected with partners’ networks and devices. One can’t choose an arbitrary mix of devices, even though theoretically it could be feasible. In practise – it just doesn’t make sense, costwise.

Every company should have a somewhat unique strategy and an idea of how that will be translated into practical operations.

Good companies really are worth their nickel to the customer. They patch the potholes of the digital road ahead; they chart out unknown territory, apply pressure to possible lazy upstream customer service, serve the tools and some of the trade knowhow in a pleasant way. Good companies do a little extra; they nurse their clients, prevent data catastrophies, and catch anyone who even tries to fall.

Bad ones – well, we’ve seen them: excuses, inaction, bad pricing, next-to criminal policies, communication that doesn’t work, etc. Often it’s the customer driving the B-company with a whip, not the B’s giving positive advise and options to the customer (as it should be). The best a client can get with B’s is an overpriced, medium-quality service. What’s really surprising to me is that the B-segment exists also in the Big Companies world; it’s not limited to SMBs at all. On the other hand also A’s exist within the Big fish.

The interesting fact is that both A and B type of companies probably set out to the voyage with sound principles, vision, and energy. But B-class boys somehow lost their interest, became indifferent and plain greedy. They acknowledged every possibility to milk the cow, and willingly did so. All means accepted: The Jargon Attack; Technology Lock-In; closed source, secrets, obfuscation. If I’d be in a bad mood I’d call these measures manipulation – that close they go.

Big trends in technology are an interesting double-edged sword. A -companies use trends to anticipate future threats, and start building firm structures to serve their customers better. They do research and invest in all the work that goes to fulfilling their scenario. B -companies use trend knowledge to build strangling loops, because they know that for some time now their customers and perhaps even their rival’s customers don’t have a choice but to jump in. It’s like building bridges for a beautiful capricorn running towards a river, vs. building a trap.

I wish I had more to tell you, more than just the experience and gut feeling to help you select well. But perhaps the article has shown some examples that help you in the work of choosing a good partner. Trust in the field – in other people who are also making their selection. Trust in customer testimony (especially when it’s being present in somewhere else than the company’s own media). Unfortunately I think financial figures do not convey much real information about the friendliness and efficiency of a IT outsourcing company. They do have some value though. Seldom a B survives past 10 years, when its angel investor-backed money runs out and scorched customers have already left the boat.

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