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Discussion: What are you paying for with external expertise?

Discussion in 'Business & Enterprise Computing' started by GiantGuineaPig, Dec 31, 2009.

  1. GiantGuineaPig

    GiantGuineaPig Member

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    Hi,
    Thought I'd start this for general open discussion. I'll just pose a lot of questions first then add my 2c in after there's some responses.

    If you either had a project or fault and contacted an external company for support and assistance, what are your expectations about their knowledge?

    What if you stumbled across your exact issue then being posted on some forums, with an engineer asking for help? Would you feel it was reasonable for the company you are paying money to, to find a solution by any means necessary, or would you wonder how professional they really were?

    What if the company just logged a call with Microsoft on your behalf? Is that an acceptable practise?

    Is it ethical for a company to leverage the good will of others by using non-profit resources and make a profit from that?

    If someone was making ~$20 from each piece of advice you gave for free, would that bother you?

    In the scenario of a Small to Medium Business which may have little to no internal IT and no way of knowing what's going on, is any fix a good fix?

    How do you know if the advice you're being given by a supposedly neutral middleman isn't just in their best own interest because the software solution they're giving you gives them the most profit? Does it matter?

    Is there a difference between asking for help for a fault, and just googling an error code and implementing whatever fix is found first?
     
  2. Kung_F00L

    Kung_F00L Member

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    Interesting post indeed!
    Something decent to think about before i head off early for new years :)

    I work for a small IT company who support many small-medium size clients, from law firms to schools.
    Each of them have their unique challenges from a support point of view.
    Here are my thoughts on your questions. Certainly looking forward to what other peoples thoughts are :thumbup:


    If it was a project, the finer details of what both party would be expecting from each other should be clearly outlined in some kind on agreement.
    Once agreed upon (or as part of the early stages of the project), the support guys should then assess if they have any short falls in regards to their knowledge base. Obviously, filling in the blanks with any short falls if discovered.

    Having said that i firmly believe, once the project/fault finding process is rolling, constant reassessment and discussions should be done by both parties to ensure they are meeting each others expectations.
    Expectations may change as higher priory jobs come through.

    It's not unheard of for a support company to call in skilled contractors if they cannot meet the customers expectations. I certainly would feel more comfortable if this took place rather than being dragged though a never ending problem after problem scenario because the existing support team couldn't cut it.

    I wouldn't expect them to know the answer off the top of their head

    I would expect them to be resourceful enough to find a solution.
    More importantly, i would expect them to be smart enough to know that they couldn't solve the problem on their own, rather than messing things up even more.

    Think about all the other businesses that support company supports.
    Every support site would be different.
    Sure, you may install every site with a similar setup, for example, an exchange server with a backup solution.
    But what if one site had a 3rd party application which causes a random issue with exchange and the particular backup software you deploy.
    Scenarios like this exist in no knowledge base. Some times support calls need to be sent to vendors to nut out some issues.


    No. Although i would like an example of such a resource before i lock that answer in :)

    Could you please clarify further? Are you phoning someone for support, then the company that person belongs to is sending you a bill for that call?

    I never feel comfortable charging for anything that takes me less than 10 minutes to resolve, such as a brief phone call. However, different story if you've phoned me up 20 times in one month for small pieces of advice. It all adds up.

    If i ran a firm and my IT was outsourced, i would expect them to make it as transparent as possible for me. If i was not in the know, then I'm not doing my job and I'm sure the board would start to ask questions.

    There are a lot of risks in business. If it is too obvious that they are trying to sell a more expensive system, take your business else where.
    He could also be recommending that solution because it was the easiest to implement or that particular package will actually do everything you need it to do rather than selling a solution that may cost you more in the long run with ongoing support costs. You just don't know.

    As i mentioned before. Some issues are well documented on vendors knowledge bases. If a google search pulls up an instant resolution to your exact issue, how is it any different to me contacting that same vendor and them telling me to resort to the knowledge base?
     
  3. maev

    maev Member

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    I would expect a professional company to know just about everything and be the best in their field (or equally best).

    i'd expect them to have the knowledge of their field as a developer of a programming language would have over his own creation. They should know it all, and know how to solve any problem with just the knowledge of what they are dealing with the the symptoms.

    That would be my expectations.
    I wouldn't like to see a company im paying money to getting their answers from other random people on a forum or from another help desk.

    I had a friend that use to work in IT for a garbage company, one day a cd drive wasn't working and the other IT guy said it was faulty / stuffed. My mate went onto google and did some research and found a solution that it needed a bios update to support it. The other guy had prepared it for departure but it didnt leave, in the end i don't see that it matters just as long as they aren't wasting your money and time.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  4. chunksoul

    chunksoul Member

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    As someone that uses external support and contractors alot i will bite here.

    1. I expect them to have a level of knowledge requisite to the amount i pay them. For example for a cisco ccna with 5 years experience i expect to pay 230-300$ an hour. For a casual call as required job. For a desktop engineer who knows how to plug in some hardware i would not be expecting to pay alot less. I don't expect them to know how to fix everything. I expect them to have some training or expertise in the area they are contracted / employeed to do.

    If i am unhappy i either don't use them again or i negotiate a lesser pay rate based on their experience.


    2. No i wouldn't be unhappy if it was posted on a forum. In fact i consider it smart that anyone i directly sub contracted would use all and every option at their disposal to solve the problem. Obviously i don't expect someone to post how do i fix A without having at least attempted a solution. Or had any ideas of their own.

    3. It depends if i didn't know how to log a call with microsoft myself then sure. I am paying for a service. That service might be to call microsoft. But if i knew how to do that they why did i need to bring someone in to do it.

    4. Yes i believe it is. You frequent these forums and you get paid for knowledge you may have gained off these forums, "correct me if i am wrong" that means you are leveraging off everyone else here to further your own career. I don't see any problem with that. NU software in adelaide uses open source software to make a profit. So does redhat, ubuntu plus a million others. Does that make it imorral ? I believe not.

    5. If it bothers you stop giving free advice. How many of your friends, neighbours, mates, uncles ask you for free advice about computers. Do you pay your friend who gives you advice about how to change your engine oil, even though it saved you 99$ for a car service.

    6. This is a very difficult and loaded question. Often a fix is more important than anything. But a fix that causes other problems later isn't really what they are after. Honestly this is one of the biggest issues that SMB face, Often they don't understand the difference and aren't willing to pay for it anyway. Even if described as the quick and nasty fix vs the correct and good fix they just assume any fix is good. This is where trust and a relationship comes into it. If i don't trust the source you always have the same issue. But it's the same with an electrician, plumber, lawyer, accountant. How do you not get a dodgy tradesman.

    7. I think this matters alot. If i think i am getting something pushed on me. and i am paying them for advice i tend to get a little upset. I am happy for them to declare they are getting paid a commission and this is what they recommend. It might be they recommend it because they are getting a paid commision and because they see some benefit for themselves they give better service and they understand the product better. For example if you are given free training in Vmware would you recommend it vs Hyper V. I would probably then prefer you used Vmware as you understand that system better. Does that make it wrong you recommend VMware ? It's the same with financial planners. I don't care if they get a commission as long as it's clearly spelt out. In fact my financial advisor reccommended Platinum international fund which he gets a big fat commission from. However it was great advice as they shorted US bank stocks in 2008/9.

    Yes i think it matters.

    8. I am not sure what you mean by this question. Can you be a little more explicit. I think you mean how is that knowledge when they are just googling the error and grabbing the closest thing that comes up. I expect them to be able to determine if that is relevant to the problem at hand. And i am not sure what you do in your job. But do you remember every Microsoft event ID in your head and how to fix it ? Or the equivalent in Linux ?
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  5. oli

    oli Member

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    This is a good thread. I am sure we'll get some interesting responses. In my opinion a lot of small businesses who outsource IT work get shafted for support but simply don't know any better.

    I don't think it's unreasonable for them to further outsource the support. Whether that means some MCSE or CCNA person goes up the chain and gets help from someone with a higher qualification does not matter as long as the initial charge doesn't suddenly increase without any forewarning.

    Sure, they are the IT company after all. You might be able to lodge a support request with MS yourself but if we are talking about small businesses with no in house people to look after IT stuff then the response from MS might be way over your head anyway.

    Lots of entities do this. You could argue that banks do this, or charities. This might be a ridiculous question but do ethics really mean anything in business anymore? Honestly...

    A fix that resolves a problem and prevents it from recurring is a good fix isn't it? You never know for sure without going to another independent source for verification. Even when money isn't involved at all getting another opinion never hurts in any area does it?

    Do you mean "whatever patch is found first"? I just ask because fix IMO implies that the problem will go away where a patch implies it's temporary and might come back.
     
  6. chunksoul

    chunksoul Member

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    Curious as to how you think they get shafted.

    Cost ?

    Performance ? Ability ?

    probably just pm me as it's slightly off topic

    My other question was from what position was the OP point of view

    As someone in IT getting in outside help or as a general layperson who has no idea calling in an IT person.

    Alot of the answers vary differently depending who it is and where they come from.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2009
  7. oli

    oli Member

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    I think there are a number of IT shops around whose technical staff are not all that competent but they have sales people who are very good, so the types of scenarios that the OP has brought up (where the techs essentially go and find the answers elsewhere) come up all the time.

    So perhaps shafted isn't the right word since it's not so much the cost factor, but the fact that they are being sold a set of skills that the service company can't really provide themselves. As I said in my post I don't think that it is a big deal if techs have to go further "up the chain" (or whichever way) to get more advice, but there has to be a limit somewhere. So the word "ability" best answers you there.

    Plenty of people (here on this forum for example) may not have done anything more than IT at high school but are competent enough to diagnose the types of problems that come up in smaller businesses pretty regularly. I mean if you look at the types of problems an average Windows work station might have these days you can often find the answer in a minute using Google.

    Very true.
     
  8. OP
    OP
    GiantGuineaPig

    GiantGuineaPig Member

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    Glad to see a positive reaction to the discussion :) I'll just pick a few things to add my opinion on so far...

    My point was that someone is making a direct profit from your knowledge sharing and goodwill.

    I was thinking more of here (OCAU) as a good example. If you were helping out certain people, then later found out the help you kept giving them was for their clients that they were charging, would that bother you?


    My views aren't as extreme as that - but I do expect the company to get the answer if they don't know it. Although, if they are just posting in forums and getting answers there, how trustworthy is their knowledge and fix they are going to implement for you? Do they really have an understanding of what they are doing?

    Personally for me it's someone inside IT getting outside help, which is why the question is posted here - but there is also the other side where a small company with no internal IT needs external help, they're much more likely to get poor service because they won't know better.

    What I had in mind for that one was, a fix being implemented that does fix the issue, but isn't best practise, or disables internal workings that may not be found for a long time.

    4 - A company that is providing a value-add service on top of a free product, I can't see anyone having an issue with that. For a company that gets other willing helping and free people to assist with their issues when they are being directly paid for it, I'm not convinced is right.

    5 - Advice is a bit different to giving a step by step solution. On the other hand, if that company spends the time helping others as much as they get helped, does that make it right again? I don't know :) But personally if I saw the company I was paying money for assistance with posting somewhere asking 'how do i fix this' then I would never use them again and probably ask for my money back. Although, if it was on official forums of the product in question I would see that as acceptable.
     
  9. bcann

    bcann Member

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    I work for a business that supports SME's.

    If i ever needed a third parties expertise for a project that i was involved in i would expect that they would tell me what their knowledgebase is, for example i no next to zip about SQL, and i do tell clients who want sql queries done, that they contact someone who does it for a living, i dont want to be responsible for destroying someones live DB for a few dollars and have the stress of trying to rebuild something i know next to nothing about.

    Different people/companies have different knowledges and if i wanted something specific (say something cisco security related) i'd go and hunt around on Cisco's website and ask questions about who they would recommend for a security related problem.

    As far as posting on a forum about an issue, well unless it was some very NEW issue, i'd hope that they or me for instance could find a solution online already, as generally when people are hired its a time critical problem, i'd hate to be waiting on a tech who is waiting on a resolution from a FREE forum, i'd kick their ass out of my house.

    As far as logging a call to microsoft, to me that would be a last resort if i couldn't find something resembling the problem online, but if it is a large problem where time is money (IE is my rate far cheaper then what they would lose in income) then i'll take the quick good fix, then the slower try it and see fix, but i would also ask the customer.

    A good example comes to mind about 10 years ago. i installed a hp printer driver that came on floppy disk, this was the one where if the printer had an issue, windows would play a voice file like "please insert paper" or whatever, then a few days later got a call from a customer who complained the printer wasn't printing, yet i could clearly hear in the background the printer driver saying please feed me paper, i told the customer this, yet they still wanted me to come onsite, they were high up in the company and were happy to pay, so fuck it i billed them.

    as far as the rest of your post, i've participated in forums and bbs's and nntp for a long time, i've imparted knowledge and had knowledge imparted on me from all of these sources, its all a learning curve, and personally is no different to reading a book as far as i am concerned
     
  10. millsy

    millsy Member

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    I'll chuck in my experience from my point of view as an independent contractor who does support the occasional SMB or enterprise business, and also my general opinion.

    1. I would expect that the client contacting me for support would know what they wanted before hand (not specifics but say database work, or systems administration). If I don't have the skill, I would inform the client that I did not, but if they still wanted me I could do some research beforehand (for free), more on this below. So from a hiring point of view i'd expect what they do and don't know to be explained at the outset.

    2. I'll take this from 2 points. If I did see a question posted on a publicly viewable area such as OCAU, and the tech/company said that they knew how to fix the problem I'd be annoyed as they lied to me, however if I knew that they were researching it then that's fair, the internet is a very large information resource. From my point of view I find online help is indispendible for someone such as myself who is expected to know 'everything'. I don't know everything, and asking for help is part of learning.

    3. Depends, i'd be expected to be informed beforehand that that was the course of action being taken, if not then yes I'd probably ask questions.

    4. Depends, if they're selling open source software yes, if they're implementing it with the knowledge of the client that it's FOSS software and they're paying for support and not the product then no, a lot of companies do that atm anyway

    5. Tough question, I tried 5 times to write something here but got nowhere so I don't have a solid opinion on it

    6. Depends on your definition of a good fix. In my opinion a good fix will address and resolve the problem and the cause of the problem. But those fixes can be costly, and sometimes a less desirable solution (from my point of view) will have to be offered, and risks of taking that solution explained to the customer.

    7. In the end if what you're being offered doesn't cover your needs then you have an issue, otherwise you're going to have to trust them, and if you don't, why are you paying for them?

    8. See #6, i feel it addresses this
     
  11. Kataton1c

    Kataton1c Member

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    No.

    It's fair to say that a large percentage of us here are employed by the IT industry, so asking a question here (even work related) isn't uncommon.

    It also works both ways, the people who contribute here know enough of each other to keep that support going. Where you get your information from is irrelevant, you still get compensated for the time that you put in however - if that's knowledge that you should already know, or really is for your own good then you don't charge for it.

    As long as the company that you're hiring (or work for) resolves the issue, has decent knowledge of what you're trying to implement / fix without ripping you off then I don't see a problem.

    Companies that tend to charge more, take less time to provide solutions, and (hopefully) of higher quality.

    In the end, I'm happy to support other people within this industry because we all support each other in one way or another. Especially those dodgy companies, they provide better business for competent people. ;)

    About the middle man: A company should do their own research before hiring someone else to do it. You want to be hiring their services based on your knowledge, otherwise of course there are people that will take you for a ride (whether you know it or not).

    Google is great, but it doesn't provide a solution to every thing. Sure you can Google errors but you still need to implement the fix.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2010
  12. oli

    oli Member

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    I agree with this. As long as it's a two way thing and we don't have people expecting to be spoon fed all the time then I am happy. :)
     
  13. Yak

    Yak Member

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    That would be up to the sales rep of the IT company, there is always a fine line between exceeding customer expectations, and giving away services. Before entering any business relationship the expectations/responsibilities should clearly be defined. I had one situation where I was expected to support a vertical app that WAS listed in our SLA, but the vendor refused to assist (to the level of no admin passwords) because the customer did not pay maintence. In this case I refered it to the account manager.

    One of the hardest lesson a new (outsourced) engineer has to learn is that they do not know everything. A good IT company will have an escalation process. The two outsourcing companies I have worked for had a policy that the onsite/primary engineer billed for his/her time, but if it was escalated to addtional internal (IE Cisco's, DBA's etc) this was not billed for. The other lesson is that using google EFFECTIVELY is a valuable resource, although I would try to avoid being "caught" by the customer googling.. :)

    If you deal with enough issues you will find that it works out even. You might run accross a particular issue at customer A that takes a reasonable amount of time to resolve, fix the issue quickly at customer B. Then find issue at site B, than can be fixed quickly at site A.

    Unfortuantly I have also had the situation where an SMB had two IT companies, if the work was to be repeated, the customer would watch over my shoulder (could not refuse) and then get the other (1/3 price) to repeat the work.
    Karma got this customer..
    Customer was told not to contact engineer's directly, but kept using my personal mobile number (caller ID). Gave phone to wife, other IT company screwed server (BSOD's) up, left multiple msg's over 3 days on wife voicemail.. :)

    What about warm & fuzzy (or KNOWITALL) feelings.. :)

    SMB's are a fine balancing game. They don't want to know the problem, want it fixed NOW, QUICKLY and for it to not come back.. Quick and dirty can sometimes be the only way, but you have to make it up later. That's what regular maintence visits can be a good idea.

    Yak.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2010
  14. Whisper

    Whisper Member

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    Yes it does bother me when the same people keep coming to the forum asking for tech support for the same business related issues instead of paying properly qualified people to do the job correctly.

    And yes, it does become obvious when people keep asking questions wrt the same field of technical expertise time and time again without contributing anything back to the community.

    To put it another way, if for example you have a one off Cisco related problem you need help with in your job, then fine. But when you keep asking Cisco related questions every other month, it's time to hit the Cisco Channel Partner Search Site and find yourself a Cisco Partner to help you deal with your Cisco related problems. :mad:
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2010
  15. OP
    OP
    GiantGuineaPig

    GiantGuineaPig Member

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    I've found that the OCAU forums aren't as helpful for me as they used to be. I've resorted to going to specialty forums for each product I've needed assistance with, such as Wyse termianls, SCCM, WDT etc.

    Some posts I didn't get any help with here:

    http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=816558

    http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=798953

    But at the same time, I've had some great full detailed replies that have given me a much better understanding of what I'm dealing with:

    http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=785042

    So for you, there's no difference if you're doing IT work direct for your employer, or being an outsourced consultant? I can see both sides of the argument I guess.

    In the situation of a server going down though, people aren't going to organise a round table meeting for discussions about what the expectations are and put a defined plan in place with goals etc.

    A recent example I can think of, was when our HP core switch started acting up. We couldn't work out what was wrong so we called in a 3rd party at night to come in straight away and have a look. They were helpful but didn't really do anything, in the end we finally got a hold of an internal network guy to come in and make another switch the core switch.

    The 3rd party knew their stuff but diagnosed the core switch as faulty and tried to organise a replacement but it didn't happen, so a month or two later we did it ourselves.

    Our original expectation was that theyd just come in straight away when the fault was occuring and see if they could assist, and that's what they did - but another customer might disagree strongly.

    I'm not sure I'd be as harsh as that, once every 2 months doesn't seem excessive unless they're hugely technical projects rather than break/fixes.
     
  16. Kataton1c

    Kataton1c Member

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    Just like Google, asking here isn't a guaranteed answer (or resolution for that matter).

    No difference for me if it's direct for my employer, or outsourced - as many companies the whole idea is to remain transparent any way. We don't go branding the boxes we deploy.
     
  17. Maelstrom

    Maelstrom Member

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    Speaking as someone who worked for an SMB consulting company for three and a half years and is now in an internal role doing similar work:

    What it comes down to in the end is results vs cost.

    If you can find an external contractor that provides a good results at a good price point then everything is fine. If you find you receive superior quality and/or better economy with an internal staff member doing the same work then obviously using a contractor is not a good idea.

    Does it make any difference whether the contractor finds the answers via google or a forum? Think of it another way - if a full time employee of the company found and implemented a result the same way, how would you feel? You may think it is an unfair comparison but a full time employee is really just doing the same work under a different contract.

    In theory, all contracted work could be done in-house. You could train someone up to be able to do it, or you could hire someone. You could buy equipment or tell someone to spend all day on forums and google looking for answers. If those methods provide better quality and/or cost advantages then perhaps they are better for you.

    I think you will find though that most good contractors are at least familiar with the general systems, environment and principles. It is exceedingly unlikely that you will find one person that does not need to reference any external information sources to fix a large number of problems across a large number of clients. Basically though, if you find someone who can understand an issue, locate information that points to a fix, validate the information, plan and then implement a fix with proper fall back plans etc then you are going to be much better off than getting an internal staff member who is unfamiliar with the aformentioned areas and asking them to try and work out what is wrong, work out how to locate relevant external information and then implement it in a sensible and reliable manner (with said planning etc).

    Sites like OCAU exist to share information. We provide it for our own reasons - helping others, making friends, stroking our ego, baiting people and so on. The point is we document knowledge. It is a huge resource and a person fixing a problem who fails to utilize useful resources is potentially being inefficient. OCAU / forum information is like Wikipedia - mostly accurate, mostly informative, mostly useful. There is a skill to identifying useful information and verifying it, and this is part of what you are paying for.

    Finally, any industry that makes sales is biased towards selling things that create the largest profit. Think businesses that sell products (as opposed to services) are unbiased? Their staff all have sales targets based on volume and/or margin. You will find the same in every single industry. Even if a business does not explicitly reward staff that sell the more profitable products, they will almost certainly be noticed by their managers and receive indirect rewards. Any business that doesn't do this is not efficiently managing its opportunities and revenue and is ceeding advantage to its competitors. Note - this does not mean that these sales are neccessarily bad for the client, they can be very beneficial. But it is always the client's responsibility to ensure that what they purchase and agree to suits their needs - even a long standing, trusted relationship should be audited occasionally by both sides to make sure that needs are being met appropriately.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2010
  18. memnoch

    memnoch Member

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    I think this is unreasonable. Unknown bugs / issues can always crop up. Corner cases exist, and always will. I'm not aware of any software that is entirely bug free.

    I'd expect the external entity to have staff capable of finding, fixing or finding work-arounds to any systems/services they manage within the agree'd upon scope of work. With an acceptable outcome without major impact upon existing services/infrastructure.

    Without a scope of work you're just asking for trouble. Get it in writing, what each party is responsible for and have some metrics to measure service delivery. As much as I hate metrics, sometimes you need them.

    Metrics in a services/support type situation could be as simple a thing as:

    "Are our support requests being responded too within X time period. And in most cases a resolution forthcoming reasonably quickly."

    All of the above also depends on what you engaged the 3rd party to do anyway.
     
  19. millsy

    millsy Member

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    In the end, if you bring someone in to deliver a solution, and they deliver it in the budget given to them what's the problem? If they need to ask for help, there's nothing wrong with that, would you have an issue if they bought a book to find the solution to a problem? Unless it's explicity stated that they can't seek external help they're not really doing anything that the person hiring them should be concerned about.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2010
  20. OP
    OP
    GiantGuineaPig

    GiantGuineaPig Member

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    Some very obvious things I'd think of:

    Has everything been done best practise, or have they somehow managed to chuck it all together and get it working? And when it breaks in a week and they've walked away, will another support person have to almost start again from the wreck?

    If they are getting 3rd party help, what sort of confidentiality is there? e.g. Maybe you post about an issue which seems generic, but it might be obvious to some which company is doing what.

    Has the company actually got the knowledge of a few different products and given you the best fit in their opinion, or have they just given you the one that gives them the best profit margin (re AV thread here)?
     

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