Ask a Repair Shop

This is the story of how you’re buying your enterprise software the wrong way. Probably your appliances, too.

This is part one of 3. If you don’t have any software development experience, you probably want to read part 2 first – Enterprise Software Explained.

This post is also available in Chinese thanks to Xu Zhi.

Some years ago, I had a broken GE washer. Pretty sure I knew the culprit, but if I was wrong I’d waste a bunch of money on a part I couldn’t return. So I called a local repair shop who serviced a number of brands, including mine. “Oh, we don’t repair GE anymore. They’re pretty much throwaways now. When they break, you just buy a new one.”

This shocked me, beyond learning of GE’s quality nosedive.1 If their products frequently broke, wouldn’t that mean a steady stream of work? Then I realized a flaw in human reasoning. The first time it breaks, you blame the manufacturer. The second time, and every time after that, you blame the repair shop. For a repair shop, servicing appliances from a bad vendor can damage your reputation. Upon realizing this, I called him right back. “If GE is bad, who do you recommend?” I got a full education on washers, including a lot of industry dirty laundry.

Since then, every time I make an appliance purchase – vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, car – I go to a repair shop. They’re always excited to talk to someone who will listen. They may even have a used model that will last you for years. 

System integrators are a lot like repair shops. They aren’t just connecting your new enterprise software to your other systems, but customizing the code to conform your business processes.2 Hopefully there are APIs to do everything you want, but maybe they have to modify the core code.3 The good ones are experienced, know the domain (ecommerce, ERP, CRM, etc.), and work with multiple vendors.

Their developers, at least, have opinions. Likely strong ones. I’ve been in this position in the past. I won’t name names, but I’ve had the following conversation with developers from other SIs:

“You guys are FooSoft partners, right? How is it?”
“It’s alright.”
“Really? Because we use BarSoft and it’s a pile of garbage. It’s got rabble rabble rabble…
Sigh. FooSoft is terrible too, it has all the same problems.”
“I hear NewSoft is actually decent.”
“Yeah, I was working on it for a short while before getting pulled off to help a late project. It’s actually pretty nice!”

This is how I was able to determine who the top vendors were in terms of quality. The problem is, most companies don’t buy software with this way. They cut out the system integrators entirely.

Typically, your CTO/CIO/CMO, etc. while first try to determine what they need. Come up with a list of features. Ballpark a budget. Then, they start talking with vendors directly.

See, they have a background in, say, networking engineering. Pretty technical. And they spent a lot of money buying the network hardware and it was a big success. Then they did a desktop refresh, and that went well, too. So clearly, spending a lot of money on tech is something they do well, right?

Well I’m highly technical, and I would not feel comfortable upgrading the network infrastructure of a medium-size enterprise without significant outside help. However, most execs go straight to the vendor. They deal with the vendor’s formidable enterprise sales team, who knows exactly what to say. I mean, have you seen a good enterprise sales team in action? They are pretty amazing to watch.

But this is like doing your appliance selection by talking to whoever is on the floor at Sears that day. Actually, it’s worse, because at least the salesperson might know which models have the highest return rate. By going to the vendors, you have zero inside knowledge. It’s more like visiting appliance manufacturer websites. We all know how helpful those are. And instead of risking hundreds of dollars, you’re risking hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

I’ll follow this up with a piece on how I would handle this, including conflicts of interest the system integrator may have (nothing is perfect). In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m sure I’m ruffling the feathers of some very powerful birds, but at minimum, someone who reads this will end up with a reliable washing machine.

Disclaimer: My company, Made Up Name, is not a partner or system integrator for any enterprise software platform. However, we often recommend third party software to our clients, in an ethical manner, without kickbacks. Certainly, a million times more ethical and cheaper than charging them to build yet another ecommerce platform.

  1. Could be better now, but I wouldn’t know. []
  2. Or telling you how much cheaper it will be to change your process. []
  3. Yes, I know that’s bad. Yes, I know that makes upgrades a nightmare! Welcome to enterprise software. []

6 thoughts on “Ask a Repair Shop”

  1. I did this when I was choosing a laptop. I called up a few laptop repair shops. It as so helpful! They could tell me what was junk and what was OK.

    I also do something like this this when choosing a new ISP. I call the support line instead of the sales line. Somehow ISPs can answer sales enquiries instantly while support calls take 45 minutes to answer. This strategy has led me to use some of the smaller (slightly more expensive) ISPs, because I know they’ll answer almost straight away.

  2. I’m a security vendor. The major problem we face is industry kickbacks – the garbage incumbent vendors vomit cash in the direction of everyone who supports them, resulting in normally reputable firms who everyone *believes* are independent telling us stuff like “We can’t talk to you; we have an agreement with [vendor]”, or “We can’t including your table of threats in our comparison, because our partner [vendor] doesn’t want those there”.

    Even some pen-testers refuse to report on security problems that our tech solves, because that’s inconvenient for [vendor]…

  3. Yeah, when a big chunk of your revenue comes from vendor leads, it’s dangerous to do or say anything that would affect that relationship. If it goes away, there will be layoffs.

    But if they came straight to your firm, had an NDA’d conversation, would you be honest? I think most SIs (OK, most engineers) would recommend the platform they honestly felt gave the best chance of success. At least more openness than the vendor.

  4. Hmm! You might be on to something: nobody repairs software or enterprise-products like your appliance-shop, however, another class of people who *do* know the most “Bad stuff” about any vendor, are that vendors competitors…

    It would be a bunch of work, but, ask “why are you, Vendor/Product-A, better than Vendor/Product-B?” a few times, and you’ll get a great list of thorny problems – then you can hit google for Vendors/Products that solve those or go back to all your vendors with you new “dirty laundry” list and at least pick the least-terrible one with some confidence then?

  5. Hi Philip, nice post!

    Could you share some of your findings of products recommended or not recommended by repair shops?

    Maybe it would be cool if there would be a website or subreddit dedicated to sharing such findings of repair shop information collection.

    Cheers!

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