Tonight I’ve been reading about why running IT as a business is a train wreck. The focus of the article is corporate IT, but I think similar consequences apply to data center providers too.
The idea of the article is that the current thinking that corporate IT departments are vendors with the rest of the corporation as their customers. Of course, we’ve all heard that the customer is always right. The problem is when you have customers who don’t know what they’re doing speccing the things they want. How can you convince them they need a $1000 server when they see $200 machines in WalMart or everyone becomes an expert network engineer because they set up their home Internet connection. The end result is that IT departments end up as nothing but grunts and substandard results.
Recently, I’ve been seeing this happen with data center providers and data center and networking projects. It seems like everyone wants to just bid to an RFP without going to the trouble of explaining to the end customer that they’re doing some or asking for something that is going to put them at high risk for trouble. The examples I can think of are IBM and their massive black eye from the Texas state data center consolidation project because they didn’t bother to back up what they knew was a risky piece of storage equipment or Northop Grumman’s fiasco in Virginia, resulting in 4700 hours of network outages in state offices in 6 months because they implemented an RFP that didn’t call for any network connection backups.
We’re not just sitting here taking orders for Big Macs, we’re the people with the expertise to do it right. If we accept and implement what we know is a bozo request without trying to correct it with the customer, that makes us bozos too. It doesn’t matter that we performed to contract, there’s enough stuff flying around, we’re all getting covered with it.
If you can’t change the course of things and it’s that risky, it’s better to let the customer walk than to get embroiled in a data center nightmare of angry customer and awful PR.
Give the customer the benefit of your expertise as a data center or networking professional, be prepared to educate them, and don’t let them walk off a cliff just because the “customer is always right”. You’ll end up with happy customers, succesful projects, a great reputation, and your competiton will take all the nightmares off your hands.