"Vendors, like people, always present themselves and their products in the most flattering, if not most accurate, light," says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, an industry analysis firm. "The sheer complexity of some IT solutions creates opportunities for easy flimflams, as does customers' ignorance." (For more on customer mistakes, see Sometimes the buyer is to blame.)
Even the metrics used to judge what should be straightforward features like performance aren't always terribly helpful, King says. Just one example: "While industry benchmarks like TPC-C for server transaction performance is an interesting measurement tool, it doesn't reflect commonplace data center or work scenarios, so it's not especially useful for determining the true value of a given system."
In the case of the luxury retailer, the IT manager felt that the SaaS provider misrepresented its transaction processing capabilities. "The service provider said no other client [than us] had this issue. We always suspected some overall volume problem; maybe we were on some shared platform and another client took it down so there was a domino effect," the IT manager says.
Experts who lack expertise
How do you avoid technical and interpersonal difficulties like those experienced by the luxury retailer?
IT managers say that being as rigorous as possible before any contracts are signed -- asking questions, verifying claims and getting promises in writing -- can help avoid conflicts and disappointments once the ink is dry. (For more tips, see How to bulletproof your vendor relationships.)
The Daily Herald, a publisher in Everett, Wash., recently ran into a situation where more verification earlier on could have saved some headaches. As it was, misleading information provided by a vendor during an evaluation process resulted in significant extra work for the IT department.
The company, which puts out a daily newspaper, five weekly publications and one monthly publication, was searching for a new editorial system to handle a variety of tasks, including managing photos, text, graphics, story plans, assignments and notes.
The company asked a vendor how its software would run at multiple sites, since that was one of the prime requirements, says Michael Lapham, manager of technical services at The Daily Herald. The vendor said it could run Citrix at remote sites, and that it had in-house expertise to help install and configure remote systems.
After signing a contract with the vendor, Lapham quickly discovered that its Citrix expertise was exaggerated, to say the least.