When you go out to buy a car, you compare prices, look for reliability reports, and do some research, first. Most of the people reading this are careful about their grocery shopping by comparing prices, value and nutrition. When it’s time to buy school supplies, parents wait for the “back to school” sales to start. These purchases are MUCH smaller than the cost of purchasing a LIMS or ELN for our lab (because I know the people buying new Lambos aren’t reading this blog posting), yet many people I speak with don’t start the process with the somewhat-jaded eye they use when they’re spending their own money.
I don’t want to suggest that we’re irresponsible when it’s not our own money – we just think of the purchase somewhat differently. Yet, it’s not entirely different. There are plenty of places to waste our company’s money, too. As such, here are three pitfalls to avoid.
1. Be Skeptical
Don’t believe what you read and hear too readily. When you go to any of our web-sites, of course we’re going to put our own spin on things. One software vendor will claim that Open Source is the only way to go for a new product and give compelling reasons. The next vendor will claim that Open Source is the worst idea in the history of mankind and will give good reasons for it.
Not only are our web-sites skewed toward our own ideas, but so are the articles and blogs we all write. They’re all meant to promote our businesses. This includes the whitepapers many of us write and post to our web-sites. You see a whitepaper as informational but you should see them as marketing papers, which is what they are.
So, just because we write something and even if it’s published in a public place besides our own web-site and blog, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Each one of us can find LOTS of other articles that agree with us so don’t be impressed by the references we point to.
Solution: Look around for a variety of information. Be careful not to look merely for people that agree with the article or posting that you’ve read because, if you do that, you’ll just find plenty of articles that are in agreement. Instead, try to specifically look for those that disagree. However, it can be useful to compare those that agree to see what reasons they cite.
2. Don’t Let Us Push You
I’ve seen this happen too many times throughout the years: the software vendor or consultant will take the “I’m the expert and you’re the idiot” attitude, puff their chest out until you think it will burst, and snidely proclaim that “everyone does it this way – it’s a best practice – you have to do it this way – so put on the clown suit and dance!!” And, I’ve seen customers go right along with this, get kind of meek and admit, “Well, I’m not the expert here – give me the clown suit, please.”
This is a message mainly to the small and mid-sized customers: don’t let us bully you! Even if you’re not the expert, that doesn’t make you an idiot, either. Before you let us force you into something, do some research on the topic. Sometimes, you’ll go along with us because you don’t have a lot of options. Still, make sure that you really don’t have other options before letting us harangue you into something you’re not sure you want to spend your company’s money on. Generally-speaking, large companies have more options and they know it. I see some of them fall for double-speak, too, but much less.
My advice: be as informed as you can. I say that the most informed customer is the best customer. I personally like the idea that a customer understands what I’m providing to them and that it is something that works for them in a longer term than merely until I cash their check. Some people think this is a crazy attitude to take, but there it is. Additionally, like any other industry, every single one of us thinks we’re an expert. Some of us actually are experts in one thing or another. Some of us are just terribly deluded. So, “buyer beware” applies just like with any other purchase. And unlike cars that have lemon laws to protect you, the fact that you can take items that turn out not to work back to the store if you save your receipt, don’t plan on getting any money back on a software project.
3. Buy What You Can Afford
We all know that, even if we could stretch our budget afford a more expensive car than what we “should” buy, that we might not be able to afford the maintenance and insurance on it. It’s exactly the same in the laboratory informatics world. Even if you can afford the more expensive system, buying services for it, paying the maintenance costs, and all the other costs that go along with it, all that will also be more expensive. If you stretched yourself to buy the product, to begin with, you might find that you can’t afford all the rest of the items that go into making the system useful to you and your lab.
Here’s another thing to consider: if you think you’ll save costs by hiring a person that knows the more expensive system, people with that skill will generally command a higher salary in the market than other people. If you plan to train that person, once they’re trained, they’ll be able to go out and command that higher salary, elsewhere. While these tactics can still work for you, you need to understand these issues in order to factor it into the costs.