Free travel a judgement call for IT managers

Should IT executives and staff accept free travel from vendors? It appears a case of horses for courses, but never when firms get down to the serious end of tenders.

Should IT executives and staff accept free travel from vendors? It appears a case of horses for courses, but never when firms get down to the serious end of tenders.

AUT accepts complementary travel from equipment vendors, IT director Calum Macleod says, but not when the vendor is tendering for a contract at the central Auckland tertiary institute.

“We accept on occasions, but not if there’s a significant piece of business we’re trying to settle.”

Once a vendor has responded to an RFP (request for proposal), trips are off-limits, but at the information request stage they can be acceptable, Macleod says. “If we have an RFI out we may expect a vendor to take us somewhere to check the product out.”

An example may be if the vendor doesn’t have a site in New Zealand where it can demonstrate a product. “If it’s for a specific reason, we may expect a hardware vendor to take us to Sydney to view equipment.”

That policy is stated in AUT’s RFI documents, he says. Under AUT’s rules all travel must be approved by an employee’s supervisor.

There is another occasion on which AUT IT staff go on paid trips: when a “solution provider that sells PCs”, whom Macleod won’t name, takes IT people from AUT and other New Zealand universities to a trade show where products from the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Dell are displayed.

Macleod says that trip is undertaken “to keep us informed about the manufacturers of the products; it’s a fairly common sort of practice in our industry sector and it’s not a carrot to influence our spending patterns”. Some universities have on occasion declined the trip because they’re in the middle of a tender, he says. Macleod says personal networking is a major benefit of the trip.

In today’s competitive climate, Macleod says, other vendors have muttered complaints about that particular trip. “They get a bit annoyed that we should be taking freebies from a particular company; that we should be seen to be favouring a particular supplier.”

Sky City IT director Damian Swaffield says the Auckland casino and hotel operator doesn’t accept gratuities, especially when tender or RFP processes are on.

He says he has only ever once been offered a trip, by Microsoft to a CIO forum, and didn’t have to decide whether or not to take it because it was impossible due to business commitments.

Sky City has a formal RFP process, he says, “with all communications going through the designated channel — we don’t get into that situation”.

Wellington Regional Council IT manager Steve Moate says the issue of an overseas trip offered by a vendor has never come up, and if it did, he doubts the council would accept.

“We wouldn’t want to get into a position where it compromised any contractual discussions and I doubt if anyone would be able to afford it time-wise.”

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