We Broke I.T. Purchasing

Read­ing Time: 4 min­utes

What is the dif­fer­ence between uneth­i­cal and eth­i­cal adver­tis­ing? Uneth­i­cal adver­tis­ing uses false­hoods to deceive the pub­lic; eth­i­cal adver­tis­ing uses truth to deceive the pub­lic.” — Vil­h­jal­mur Ste­fans­son

The process by which we in the IT indus­try eval­u­ate and pur­chase new equip­ment is bro­ken. The entire cycle from prod­uct incep­tion through mar­ket­ing, eval­u­a­tion, pur­chase and on to instal­la­tion, is almost as use­ful as snake mit­tens. And as far as I can tell, it’s only get­ting worse.

mar­ket­ing mon­ster

After spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars of research and devel­op­ment mon­ey on the road to a final prod­uct, and need­ing to get to mar­ket as quick­ly as pos­si­ble both to recoup their invest­ment and to release some­thing, or any­thing, com­pa­nies turn to their crack mar­ket­ing depart­ments. For many peo­ple this is regard­ed as a whol­ly bad idea, and a process which should be set to the flame like a witch. How­ev­er, as the peo­ple of this opin­ion are not in charge of any­thing, the world march­es duti­ful­ly onward. Slide decks are made, white papers are writ­ten, hours are spent in the ser­vice of a great prod­uct name, until even­tu­al­ly the baby can be revealed and judged not on its mer­its but on its saleabil­i­ty.

Oth­er com­pa­nies, sens­ing that they are now behind the prover­bial eight-ball because they don’t have the newest Bin­ford 9000, rush to call the new baby ugly while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly trot­ting out their cur­rent prod­uct, now re-brand­ed as being the same as every­one else’s, only bet­ter in every way. Some­times there is a new prod­uct that can be wrapped in the appro­pri­ate lan­guage on launch, oth­er times its an old prod­uct being pol­ished like so many fetid turds. But at least the prod­uct is out, it’s com­pet­ing (maybe), and a mar­ket seg­ment is born.

Of course the ana­lysts must get involved at this point, lest the mass­es be con­fused as to what they should be buy­ing. They eval­u­ate the new prod­uct, the exist­ing prod­ucts with their me-too swag­ger, and any oth­er prod­ucts that might con­ceiv­ably be use­ful in round­ing out a new­ly formed slice of the sil­i­con val­ley dream. Things are stud­ied, ques­tions asked, prod­uct man­agers cajoled into fill­ing out forms and answer­ing ques­tions, chins are scratched, fore­heads rubbed, look­ing glass­es con­sult­ed. Final­ly, charts are made, resplen­dent in their mul­ti-col­ored, impor­tant sound­ing axis and titles, the win­ners and losers laid out for the world to mur­mur over in trade shows all over Las Vegas.

These are all impor­tant process­es and must be fol­lowed very exact­ing­ly. After all, with­out the mar­ke­teers invent­ing a name, or the ana­lysts cat­e­go­riz­ing those cohorts, how can a rea­son­able C‑level exec­u­tive pos­si­bly be expect­ed to be told what they should buy? Charts are very impor­tant here, ven­dor sales peo­ple equal­ly so, and ana­lysts are per­haps the most impor­tant of all. Short­change any of this process and bad things are like­ly to hap­pen; tech­nolo­gies might be eval­u­at­ed on their own mer­its and against the needs of the com­pa­ny instead of what every­one knows to be the cor­rect process, name­ly, buy­ing the best entry in the best cat­e­go­ry of the best ana­lyst’s col­ored charts.


Damnit, John­son! Do we have the new foop-splort 52xy‑C port-box

Um, we could be look­ing into…”

And what about mov­ing our stuff into the fog bank? Are we fog­ging yet?”


The staff respon­si­ble for using equip­ment on the net­work, osten­si­bly those for whom the chal­lenges are well known, bear lit­tle respon­si­bil­i­ty for mak­ing a final deci­sion and are well-served by appear­ing to be on board, what­ev­er the final deci­sion. In fact, if they appear as not pay­ing prop­er feal­ty to the pitched tech­nol­o­gy they run the risk of being brand­ed a heretic, a crab­by mal­con­tent only want­i­ng to keep things the way they were in the era of the punch card, some­one to be shunned and hid­den away from any­one reek­ing of impor­tance. For those not inclined toward man­age­ment, and not desirous of being involved in any deci­sions going forward–including lunch orders, types of free drinks in the kitchen, fla­vors of cof­fee, work hours–this is prob­a­bly not a whol­ly bad thing. They’ll grow a beard, grow bit­ter, and even­tu­al­ly be found half deliri­ous clutch­ing a sta­pler.

How­ev­er, for those engi­neers who haven’t quite giv­en up on life, the mar­ket­ing, ana­lyst, and sales machine can be a jug­ger­naut upon which many careers are made. If exec­u­tives are on board, and why would­n’t they be, it’s prob­a­bly best to agree their clothes are quite love­ly thank you very much, or feign only mild con­cern, “I wish that came in blue.”

But, a few mil­lion dol­lars lat­er, and some cold nights search­ing for your soul among the crum­bled dreams of your bro­ken life, a pile of shiny new gear–or soft­ware, licens­es, and bro­ken promises–will arrive upon your doorstep, ready to be inte­grat­ed into what­ev­er remains of your appar­ent­ly old and bust­ed infra­struc­ture. It might not work, or do any­thing use­ful, or even real­ly inte­grate very well at all. But think of it this way, by the time you install it, learn it, and fig­ure out just what you can do with it, a new cat­e­go­ry will have been born and you can start the process all over again. Unless you’ve been hid­den away with your hereti­cal ram­blings and your sta­pler.