More on IT ethics – is it a zero-sum game?


There’s an axiom in psychology that says the thief always locks his door; the honest person, who would never think of stealing themselves, has to force himself to remember to lock the door.  Extended, it means that sometimes the most obvious things are not apparent to those with a certain mindset.

When I worked for an IT reseller (VAR, or Value-Added Reseller), I was lucky enough to work on the technical side of the house, and not sales.  I attended a large number of sales calls as a partner to the salesperson, and it was always a struggle to rein in the salesperson’s claims to match reality without embarrassing either the client or the salesperson.

Now, I no longer have the luxury of not selling.  I’m terrible at it, but I have to do it.  I compete with people who do it very well.  And during one of these sales calls to pitch Flying Buttress’ services last week that I had yet another epiphany (they come fairly regularly now, making me feel somewhat like a 5-th grader).

VARs and their clients generally have a tough relationship because they have diametrically opposite goals.  The client, as a baseline, does not *want* to spend any money at all on IT.  They realize they must, for reasons good and bad, but in a perfect world, IT would have no cost at all.  For the 99 percent of businesses out there, IT is a necessary evil, a means to the end, relied upon to deliver their ultimate end service or product.

The VAR, on the other hand, wants the Client to spend as much money as possible on IT.  On the shadier end of the spectrum, this can go into spending vast amounts of money on goods or services not needed at all by the Client.  At a minimum, it is opportunistic grabs – “how are your printers working for you?” “have you thought about leveraging the Cloud?” and so forth.

The net result is tension.  The Client feels pressured to spend, spend, spend and can never really trust the VAR’s recommendations without a seed of doubt.  The VAR team is under constant pressure to “maximize existing opportunities” and to “expand footprints”.  It is no wonder that most IT/VAR engagements go south sooner, rather than later.

I have never realized this because I had never viewed it in those terms.  Any time a client has engaged Flying Buttress, I feel that there is an obligation to that firm to truly act in their best interests – not Flying Buttress’s.  If there is a conflict between the two, then we would disengage.  But there doesn’t need to be.  If a firm hires FB for strategic IT, at a flat monthly rate – that is the beginning and end of our “get”.  That is our piece of the pie and we’re happy with it.  Beyond that, we spend the client’s money with a greater sense of responsibility than our own.  Trust has been placed in us,  and to fail in that would be shameful.

I know that is sounding somewhat Pollyanna-ish and even Asian, but it resonates with me and the FB staff.  It means something to us to be trusted.  To make sure our Clients make informed decisions without bias.  To operate at all times in *their* best interests.  Someone once told me you become truly successful by helping others succeed.  I believe that.  I want to execute on that.

But it all goes back to the larger, circular question of is it possible to succeed without always placing your interests first?  Without trying to maximize footprints or squeeze every drop of revenue out of a Client?  We’ll find out.