Captain Obvious and his ship of fools

When your company buys another company with a clueless, outsourced IT department, the fun never ends

I work for a company that acquired two of its competitors about a year apart. The first purchase was a company much like us that I'll call GoodCo. The integration was not without issue, but overall, it went smoothly.

And so I was lulled into a false sense of security when I heard about the acquisition of the other company that we'll call BadCo. Because we had just integrated GoodCo's network the year before, I was not too worried about repeating the process with BadCo's. That is, until I learned BadCo had outsourced its entire IT department to a large TLA (three-letter acronym) company.

Well, the honeymoon was over with this one. Nothing came easily with the BadCo integration. Instead of a couple of techie guys discussing the best way to redistribute routes and coming to a gentleman's agreement, BadCo had a process that required paperwork for all manner of inane minutiae and nothing was free. It was all about billable hours, of course. If the TLA had been good, the fees would have been acceptable, but TLA was not good. They just didn't grasp the obvious. We spent days troubleshooting the simplest problems.

Once, when we couldn't get people at a site to connect to a server, even though they could ping it, we were sure it was a firewall rule. I specifically asked for logs from the suspect firewall but was denied access and the problem dragged on with mind-numbing delays. Three days later, they found the problem. They explained it as a rule change in a firewall. They acted surprised. I did not. Thank goodness for the mute button.

One TLA guy earned the nickname Captain Obvious for his skill at restating our descriptions of problems. If I said, "There's a firewall rule blocking server connections," he would respond with, "There must be a rule in the firewall blocking clients from connecting to the server?"

Another of the TLA guys even had the nerve to make the statement, "Ping and trace route are the worst tools to troubleshoot network issues." I was so aghast, I didn't have the presence of mind to ask him what he used instead.

We had a conference call to discuss the possible ways to migrate inbound faxes from BadCo's old server to our server. Three TLA attendees and two of our guys were on the call. When I asked for some rudimentary info, you could hear the crickets chirping. Actually, it was dogs barking and kids whispering to find out if they could come in yet. Did I mention all of the TLA guys worked from home? After several minutes of TLA folks not being able to answer a single question, it came out that the only guy who had ever worked on the fax server had left months ago. No knowledge transfer, no written documentation, just dumbfounding silence. We soon discovered that sort of thing to be a hallmark of this integration.

For those who pine for the days of point-to-point T1 lines back to HQ, you'll be delighted to know that TLA had a fully meshed MPLS network but constructed elaborate tunnels and prefix lists for the route distribution. It effectively acted like a hub and spoke network, forcing all traffic through the central HQ site. Our hands were tied as long as they controlled the routers and circuits. My boss and his boss finally quit fighting them and ordered all new circuits and routers to get out from under them.

The acquisition is complete but the headaches, well, I expect them to continue indefinitely.

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