Your software vendor has offered to help by providing your company with some free services. This is fantastic news, or is it? As individuals, you and I might enjoy receiving free stuff and might even feel like we’ve won a mini lottery when we get a service or product at no cost. Maybe you feel you have nothing to lose, and should simply enjoy what you’ve received. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, and this applies to businesses, too.
In the world of business, nothing is ever really free, and you can bet there’s an alternative motive behind the gesture if your software vendor offers you something for “free.” One common tactic software companies use is to embed free products in an organization for a trial period. They’re hoping that you come to depend on the product during the trial period. While this is a good way to try a product before buying it, the way it’s added to your environment walks the line between being helpful and acting unethically. Is there a real problem the trial product can help solve, or is the solution trying to create a problem where none previously existed?
One business might legitimately invest in another to show they have “skin in the game” or to help build trust in the business relationship. These are justifiable cases. In other circumstances, a business might cross a line and wander into unethical behavior territory. Unfortunately, this is currently happening with many business software vendors.
Recognizing a software company’s true expertise
Software companies are in the business of creating computer-based tools primarily to provide their clients with better processes and workflows, and to make the tasks of managing data more tolerable. These companies spend a great deal of time and money on research, focus groups, and trial and error to ultimately create software designs and features that add value to businesses. These activities are all necessary and are hallmarks of companies that create leading products. You could surmise that such rigor is what makes a vendor’s employees experts in business or in a particular industry.
After all, these software companies have created the very software that makes your business more effective, so they must be true experts, right? However, just because these companies know how to best use their own software products -- and there’s no question that they do -- doesn’t mean they have actual expertise in a field or industry.
Think of this in terms of an architect who designs a hospital. That architect will know every nook and cranny of the hospital and could eloquently describe each feature and why it is there. The architect might even be able to recommend how to use those features, in some cases. But could that architect be able to perform any medical function by virtue of having designed the hospital? By no stretch of the imagination would that ever be the case.
Take this a step further and ponder what would happen if the architecture firm, which designed the hospital, began to hire medical doctors. Would you feel confident in the medical care you would receive from that architecture firm? Is an architecture firm the right organization to manage and provide medical services? Although this is likely not an acceptable scenario to anyone, the analogy is useful to explain what some software companies are doing: pretending to be experts in areas they are not.
Are free products causing more harm than good?
Just because a software company excels at creating leading software does not make them qualified experts in a field or industry. They are in the business of selling licenses for their different products. The more features of their software and licenses that your company buys, the more money they make.
This begs the question: When software companies give away services designed to embed more products, features, and licenses in your businesses, is that ethical? Are those free services really helping your business, or could they be causing more harm than good? A simple test is to evaluate what you’re being offered: Is the vendor giving you training or guidelines on how to use their product? If so, those services are likely going to help you and legitimately fall within the vendor’s area of expertise. In contrast, if a vendor offers business process consulting or advice on operational best practices, they’re overstepping their boundaries of expertise.
Representing any degree of expertise in an industry or field by riding on the success of a software product line is probably the most alarming. True expertise comes from education, practical hands-on work, and years of actual experience with successes and failures in a given field and/or industry. As an expert in your own field, you know the time and energy required to achieve that expertise. Any legitimate business technology services company will hire people who have in-depth knowledge and experience across many software products, industries, and business functions.
Look for true experts to meet your business IT needs
The next time your business is offered free services or any form of IT or business consulting from a software company, ask yourself: Are they really qualified, or is the allure of their brand what makes the offer appealing? Like the architect/hospital analogy, you might undermine a successful outcome for the problems you need to solve by accepting an outrageous offer from a software company who’s overstepping their boundaries and misrepresenting their expertise.
The advice here is, don’t fall for the allure of the software brands, and seek legitimate experts in business and IT needs. Look to spend time building a relationship with organizations that have a proven track record in specific areas of expertise. A true expert can dive deep into specific topics and can bring subject matter experts who provide breadth of knowledge, rather than generalists who provide only superficial opinions. Ask for examples of past work that are relevant to your organization’s needs. When an experienced vendor is expanding their area of expertise, seek to understand how past experience is relevant to what they’re offering.
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