Our time should equal their money

The entire process of ordering, buying and receiving computer equipment has always been fraught with misadventure and economic inefficiency. But given the current state of the economy, this is becoming a more pressing matter.

The entire process of ordering, buying and receiving computer equipment has always been fraught with misadventure and economic inefficiency. But given the current state of the economy, this is becoming a more pressing matter.

IT departments everywhere have hardware specialists whose whole function is to track paperwork, make sure the equipment ordered shows up and works, and finally, see to the maintenance of that equipment during its economic life cycle. That life cycle is tied to the government's schedule of depreciation allowances for capital equipment.

This might not be an issue if vendors consistently lived up to their quality claims. But IT organisations collectively spend billions of dollars to compensate for the ineffective quality-control systems put in place by vendors.

My personal experience as a consumer bears out some of what IT departments routinely experience. I decided to upgrade my home PC with a GeForce 3 graphics card from Elsa USA, so I ordered the card from CDW Solutions. A box arrived promptly from CDW, but the box from Elsa inside the CDW box was empty. After dickering with CDW, they told me the GeForce 3 graphics cards from Elsa were mysteriously unavailable to them and they would send me a replacement card from VisionTek. I'm out a half-day's worth of time in phone calls, for which I'm not compensated.

Next up was the attempt to replace the Pentium II processor and board in my system with a Pentium III processor and a board from Via Technologies to go with the VisionTek card. That went pretty well, but once it was installed I discovered, during the course of several day's phone calls, that Via boards have certain USB incompatibilities with things like my DSL modem from Efficient Networks, requiring a patch from Microsoft. More than a year ago, I installed DSL in my home myself. So it pained me greatly to call Pacific Bell for a technician, who promptly told me that he doesn't deal with DSL and USB anymore. He prefers to stick in a network card because he knows that works. I have a new DSL card in my PC.

But I just couldn't leave well enough alone. I tried to add the second edition of Windows 98 to my system. That disabled my graphics card. Meanwhile, I have no virus software on my system because as I tried to install Windows 98 second edition, I discovered incompatibility problems with the installed anti-virus software. I had to delete my anti-virus software before installing it.

I would have loaded my new copy of McAfee VirusScan 5.1 on my old copy of Windows 98 that is now running, but somewhere in this process my setup.exe file disappeared from Windows, so I can't load any new software for the moment.

The point I'm trying to make is that IT people routinely spend untold hours persevering through these kinds of inane incompatibilities, which costs their companies lots of money. So I suggest customers begin writing purchase agreements and SLAs (service-level agreements) that financially penalise vendors for lost time and effort during any acquisition and installation process. Vendors might improve if they saw a direct correlation between quality of service and their profit. And given the current economic climate, there's no better time to get their attention.

Vizard is editor in chief of Infoworld (US). Send email to Michael Vizard. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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More about CDWEfficient NetworksElsaMcAfee AustraliaMichael VizardMicrosoftPacific BellVia Technologies

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