Six things I hate about IT

Don't get me wrong. At heart, I'm a technology enthusiast. But there are a few things about the IT industry that just make me crazy. I'm not talking about failures of technology itself but rather failures in how people promote and use it. From gimmickry to punditry, here's what I truly hate about IT:

1. Vendors that think they sell "solutions." Solutions used to come from chemistry experiments or math equations. But IT vendors keep ascribing the term to their products: Just open the box and voilý -- your problem goes away. Will someone please slap these marketing airheads? Not only do IT professionals recognize that this is total baloney, but this pretentious pitch is insulting to anyone who has spent a year or more trying to complete any major IT project. Vendors don't sell solutions. They sell their products -- oversell them. IT professionals then struggle to make them work as advertised and then, if they're lucky, use those tools to solve specific problems.

2. Companies that misuse IT to erect barriers between customer service staffers and clients. Why use IT to build loyalty with customers when you can really tick them off by making it nearly impossible to reach a live human being? The worst offenders are consumer technology product vendors that are enamored with automated attendants, FAQs, e-mail response mechanisms and creating mazes of circuitous Web pages of "answers" that users must wade through. How about just giving customers a phone number?

Case in point: A week after buying an upgrade to my personal finance software, the vendor rolled out a new version. Was a free media or online update available? I spent 20 minutes wading through the Web site, sent an e-mail inquiry that came back with an inappropriate response and spent 20 minutes on the phone with a customer service person who finally admitted that, yes, I could receive the new version for a US$10 media fee.

Then, to my astonishment, he asked for my address and product registration information. I have been a registered user since 1993. "Why don't you just look it up?" I asked. "I don't have access to that system," he replied.

3. "Real-time computing." This is just the latest in a long string of overinflated buzzwords. What's real about real-time computing? I'll tell you: It's a great rallying cry for vendors. A wonderfully amorphous and high-minded concept for analysts. A great expense-report justification for travel to a resort that hosts the conference. Everybody wins.

4. Software vendors that assume no liability for their products. Software will always have bugs, therefore we can't hold vendors liable for the problems they create, right? This ridiculous, defeatist argument may seem reasonable at first glance. But when vendors aren't held liable, they view bugs and vulnerabilities as a public relations problem, not a fiscal one. Should software vendors really be held to a lower standard of accountability than vendors in other industries? Litigation works because it shifts the increasingly burdensome cost of bugs and security vulnerabilities from the customer to the vendor. Assuming liability means assuming responsibility. It's time this industry grew up.

5. Vendors that would rather sue than innovate. Don't even get me started about the ongoing SCO lawsuit. And more recently, SunnComm Technologies threatened a Princeton graduate student with legal action for pointing out that its copy-protection software can be defeated by simply holding down the Shift key after inserting a protected music CD. In so doing, maybe SunnComm thinks it will get back some shareholder value and save face. Then again, maybe it should just get to work on a better product.

6. Those "priceless" product opinions. After I received a preliminary copy of a vendor's new-product press release, the PR person called to say that I shouldn't excerpt the favorable quotations attributed to an industry analyst. Computerworld wouldn't use such quotations anyway, but I was curious.

"Why not use them?" I asked.

"We haven't run them by him for approval yet," she explained.

Do analyst firms commonly sign off on vendor-provided "commentary" for their vendor customers? I put this question to a veteran freelance writer I know who routinely works with vendors. "Of course they do," he said as if it was a silly question. "We're all whores in this business." He added that he has written faux analyst quotes for clients himself. "But the better analysts do rewrite them," he noted.

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