April 07, 2006, Techworld
Due diligence is needed for a reason.
A few years ago, I was IT manager at a small bank with five branches in three counties. We were looking for a way to standardise our phones as well as cut costs, and after some research we pretty much decided on a VoIP solution from a company I'll call AcmePhone.
Acme's district sales manager, regional network engineer, and a few other people assured us that this not only would be the smartest move we ever made, but one of the easiest. I've worked in IT long enough to know that nothing is ever as easy as salespeople promise, but the hype was hard to resist. We even made site visits to other companies that had purchased the same system. They couldn't sing the praises of AcmePhone loudly enough.
The only problem was that, as part of our vendor due diligence, we require financial statements. The salesman was happy to provide references and specs, but for some reason, AcmePhone's financials never appeared. This constituted a waving red flag for me and the CFO, but the rest of the C-level execs were so bedazzled by the thought of this exciting new technology that they ignored our warnings.
After six months of planning, we pushed the go button. We began by upgrading our entire infrastructure: new routers, new switches, new point-to-point T1 lines. This part of the project went off without a hitch, and my fears began to subside. Finally the AcmePhone installation team arrived. By the end of the second day, every desk in all five branches had brand-new IP phones sitting next to their legacy phones. On day three we turned off the old phones, switched over to the new system, and went live. And it worked!
There were still a few wrinkles to iron out, though. I spoke with the AcmePhone engineer in charge of our implementation, and he estimated it would take about a week to get everything nailed down.
Halfway through the next workday, the bomb dropped: Every AcmePhone employee on site received a message stating that AcmePhone had been purchased by a rival VoIP vendor, and effective at the close of business that workday, it would no longer sell or support the system my company was in the process of installing.
Aiee! I hit the phones, looking for a new vendor to take on the task of fixing what AcmePhone had left undone. But before I could find one, our senior management team decided that we couldn't afford to pay another company; I was ordered to fix the problem myself. I had been given some cursory instructions on administering the system, but I was far from comfortable with taking sole responsibility for fixing the installation problems, not to mention day-to-day operations. After several months of pleading with my boss to let me partner with another VoIP vendor to finish the install and to get me some training, my company and I parted ways. A year later that AcmePhone system was still causing major headaches for my replacement.
No matter how impressed management may be with new technology, I will never again allow a major purchase to go through without seeing vendor financials. I need to know that a company will be there to support its system — not just next year but also next week.