Actually, I worked for one of the "good guy" IT consultancies. But I'm not naive. I know there are plenty of vendors, VARs, consultants and service providers out there, all with a single goal: to separate you from your money. If they lose you as a future customer or can't count on you for referrals, they'll just move on to the next sucker. So here are some lessons from our Defense Against the Dark Arts course:
» If it sounds too good to be true, it is. In my previous IT management position, I was approached by a managed security provider so desperate for business that it offered the old "free initial consultation" come-on. After doing our due diligence, my colleagues and I discovered that the MSP hadn't worked for any companies our size; its references weren't exactly glowing; and, most unimpressive for a security company, it didn't run background checks on its employees. So beware if you think the shell game is history--it's just been reborn in different forms, all of which result in lost time, leaked business intelligence and, ultimately, wasted money. There really is no such thing as a free lunch--or even a free snack.
» Play it close to the vest. Don't ever, ever, ever let a vendor know your budget for a particular project. And if you do, don't be surprised when the vendor's quote comes in right at that number. The "bad guys" have learned, in Evil Marketing for Beginners, never to set pricing based on actual cost. They've been taught to find out exactly how much the client can spend--and to get every last dime. This makes for psycho-inflated profit margins, of which Voldemort, Sauron and Darth Vader would all approve.
In fact, Advanced Evil Marketing educates vendors on an even more dastardly approach: to base prices on predicted customer savings. If the customer can save $200,000 annually by using a particular product, for instance, who cares if that product costs only $10,000 to produce? Price it at $150,000, and the client still saves $250,000 over five years. By Grabthar's Hammer--what a savings! (Clearly, I've been watching too much sci-fi.)
Don't share management mandates with vendors either. If, for example, management decrees that you implement a helpdesk by year end or you're out of a job, and you let that information slip to a potential helpdesk vendor, you can bet the vendor will use that info to jack up prices or put some other premium on the product. It's evil ... er, human nature.