Indentifying the “Dark Side” of the IT Industry


I’m wrapping-up my visit at the Enterprise 2.0 conference here in Boston.  It has been a good week and I’ll be talking more about it later.  One thing that I have finally have worked out is the roles that everyone plays.

For quite some time now, there has been a running joke on Twitter when people changed jobs, leaving/entering consulting, that they were joining the Dark Side.  When Jon Marks (@McBoof) left his old consulting gig job to work for a large company to lead their internal efforts, it was joked that he was joining the “Dark Side”.  I have decided that it is not the case.  Jon joined the forces of good.

Defining the Sides

Their are three basic roles in the content industry, the vendors, the clients, and the “neutral” consultants.  Let’s start with the vendors.

image The vendors, like all companies, have one primary goal, to make money.  They may claim other goals, but those other goals merely influenced HOW they choose to make money.  This isn’t a bad goal, after all, money lets us do fun things with friends and family.

For IT vendors to make this money, they have to compete for the finite set of funds out there.  Methods vary, but the goal is to beat the competitors and collect money from clients.  Success of their clients is only important in that it allows them to leverage that success to make more money from new clients.

There is nothing wrong with this, but it is critical to understanding the motive behind everything a vendor does in the industry.  This purely selfish behavior in the relationship makes THEM the Dark Side.

Opposed to the vendors are the clients/customers.  They want to solve the problems in order to gain an advantage over their competition.  While they also act from selfish interests, in this relationship, they are the ones trying to solve problems and make everyone better off than they were before.  They are trying to judge the promises from different vendors.  If their project succeeds, both sides gain, but if it fails, only the vendor stands to gain anything.

image In the middle are the “neutral” consultants.  That is me.  The degree of neutrality varies.  Some don’t hide it well, while others appear to be neutral.  The thing is, nobody is neutral.  It is like water in nature.  There are degrees of cleanliness.  You have clean water with a few minerals all the way to the “water” in the Gulf.  The better consultants may strive to be natural spring water, but it is hard to leave behind all the baggage that you accumulate.

The consultants are really only after increasing their personal power.  They use both the vendors and the clients to increase their influence.  Conflicts between the two is an opportunity to increase power and show how indispensible and smart they are.  We are like a Senate, always working to be the top dog, taking advantage of issues, blaming everyone but ourselves for problems, and always pontificating on how our ideas are the way of the future.

Shades of Gray

There are no absolutes here.  As stated, some consultants have definite leanings.  You can usually see those leanings from their job history.  Do they jump to clients or vendors between consulting jobs?

Consultants working for vendors sometimes try and be the good guys, but their existence is defined by their ability to increase the product revenue.  Their success leads to support renewals, references, additional product sales, and the denial of that client to another vendor.  Regardless of their motives, they are just tools of the Dark Side.

Clients run the spectrum.  Some are very good.  Others can be manipulative.  That doesn’t mean that they are bad, they just realize that the vendor is on the other side and that they can’t just sit there and take it.

I’ve already talked about the spectrum for consultants, so I won’t repeat it here.

There are those on all sides that try to “partner” with the other side.  Let’s face it, that is a great strategy.  As Sun Tzu said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

And lets remember one thing, Good can go to Dark, Darkness can be redeemed, and sometimes they hide in the Senate to manipulate things for their benefit down the road when their true nature is revealed.

Needed Balance

These roles are needed.  They maintain a needed balance in the industry.  When the clients have full control, vendor innovation cannot take place and clients cannot learn lessons that others have learned or are learning.

When vendors have control, clients become unhappy, they waste fund, and eventually stop buying.  This leads to stagnation.  Clients have good ideas and unique situations.  If vendors ignore them, they are signing their own death warrants.

As for consultants, if they have too much power, clients are trying to do things that their companies, or the vendors, may not be able to execute.  Engagements last too long and analysis paralysis sets into the projects.

Conflict stimulates change.  By not blindly following a vendor and always looking for solutions to solve their problems, clients force the vendors to evolve and provide new and better solutions.  Vendors always are themselves are always trying to look enticing to the clients. The proverbial Devil in Disguise.

So now that I have classified myself as a bickering senator, how do I feel?  I like to say that I am fighting for my clients, and some of my posts support that statement.  When you look at my work history, I’ve been a consultant.

There was one job where I worked for a vendor as a consultant.  It was only a year, but it is there on my resume. I did interview with a vendor company afterwards, so I can’t say I “learned my lesson”.  So maybe I have leanings towards the Dark Side.

Can we change this?  Do we want to change it?  I’m thinking No on both counts. We can, and should, make things more civil, but the underlying conflict of interest will remain.

The question is, where do you want play?

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