"It ends up they didn't have any in-house knowledge of it at all, only that one of their customers was using it," Lapham says.
How to bulletproof your vendor relationships
* Talk to the vendor's technical staff during the buying process. Ask about features, performance and product road maps, particularly anything that will be important to your business in the next 12 months.
* Examine and check all references closely.
* Get in writing every promise related to the product's performance and features, uptime and tech support.
* Find out which firms are providing hardware, software or services to your vendor. Ask what happens if those secondary vendors go out of business or end their relationship with your vendor.
* Consider piloting a few licenses of a new system to ensure it works as advertised before rolling it out to many seats.
The vendor knew that remote access could be done with Citrix -- because another customer was doing just that -- but it had zero experience installing and configuring such a system and didn't offer any help. "So you could say what they told us was a bold-faced lie," Lapham sums up.
The Daily Herald's IT department had to do the Citrix installation, which ended up being a quick-and-dirty job just to get the system up and running. "We put in a minimal configuration; it wasn't exactly best practices. We're aware that we didn't end up doing it the best way, but that's what we had to do, since the vendor had nothing to provide us with," Lapham says.
Upselling and overbilling
Due diligence is ideal but not always possible, especially with smaller companies that don't have dedicated IT staffs and may not know which questions to ask.
A few years ago, IT professional Thomas Peacock got so fed up with the new president at the small IT services company where he worked in Spokane, Wash., that he quit four months after the new executive came on board.
The president "would tell a small business of maybe five users that didn't have particularly critical data that they needed a firewall. Then he would take an old computer that had been discarded and was ready for recycling, load it up with firewall software and sell it to the small business for $500," recalls Peacock.
"This firewall would require tending to once a month or so, which would generate an hour or two in service calls; even if the call was 15 minutes, he charged $100 for the hour." Since most of the people the company sold to didn't have technical expertise, it was hard for them to argue with the president, because they needed his company's support to keep the product running, says Peacock, who is currently looking for work.
Bypassing the IT department