The Smart Way to Buy Information Technology: How to Maximize Value and Avoid Costly Pitfalls

Amacom, 1998, US$35

The last time you bought a car, did you go to the dealership knowing as much about the salesperson’s strategy and tactics as you did about the vehicle you wanted to buy? If not, you probably didn’t feel as in control of the purchasing process as you could have. What about the last time you made an IT purchase-how much control did you have over that process? If you had the queasy feeling that you’d been stuffed in the trunk and taken for a ride, then The Smart Way to Buy Information Technology is the cheat sheet you need to put you in the driver’s seat.

In a clear, common-sense manner, Smart Way reveals the ploys of vendors and how CIOs can counteract them. Do you have someone on your staff whose friend is a vendor? Learn how to make that person a mole and use the relationship to your advantage. Not sure how to make the best compromise in negotiations? Have a list of your needs in order of priority based on team input so that you don’t trade away an important need for an unimportant one. But the writing is more than just straightforward-frequently, it’s also fun. Co-authors Brad L. Peterson, a lawyer, and Diane M. Carco, a finance executive, step out of their business personas and pepper their writing with takeoffs on Bertolt Brecht, John Steinbeck and Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquy.

The book is divided into three parts. The first looks at how IT buying mistakes are made, with insights into technophilia (love of technology) and vendor selling ploys (buzzword babble, appeals to machismo) that will make you giggle and grimace in recognition. People you know (and probably work with) are skewered in this book. The second section describes a practical strategy for dealing with these tactics: identifying the proper participants for a cross-department purchase team, avoiding the seven deadly negotiating sins (assuming that the vendor intends to screw you or has your best interests at heart are equally dangerous), and finding where your leverage with the vendor lies.

In the final section, devoted to contracts, the authors delve into the minutiae of consulting and outsourcing agreements, software licensing and hardware purchases. The value of each clause would have been more apparent if the contractual information had been annotated. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for nuts and bolts to make your contracts as mutually beneficial as possible, you can’t go wrong with the fundamentals the authors provide. And you should certainly crib from this book the next time you buy a car.