Quaint. We're an old firm: next to my desk is our original certificate of incorporation dated 1856. In those days you didn't get to carry an ID card: you wore a top hat and, as a gentleman broker, your word was your bond. One hundred and fifty years later you can still see elements of the original business processes even though we use exquisitely advanced technology to trade gigapounds of gilts. We're already looking at quantum cryptography, and we license our current security framework to HM Treasury for secure market monitoring.
Our vendors haven't really caught up, the IT ones being the worst. They use business processes that would not have looked out of place on Lombard Street in the 19th century.
The reason this came to my mind was a cold call from HP. Most of our servers are HPs and Compaqs -hardly unusual - but, due to our interesting history we don't have an HP account manager.
This makes me happy. I'm sure they're a fine bunch of men and women, but all vendors sales people seem to have a hunger for understanding. They want to come and "understand my business".
Frankly, so do I.
So hard is my business that at 42-years-old I'm doing evening classes in the application of linear parabolic differential equations to exotic interest rate derivatives, under the respected and terribly expensive Dr. Wilmott.
Of course they don't want to understand this. They want to look at my building and use it to base their mark-up upon the amount of marble in our reception area. It's a waste of my time, and even then they won't discuss price. Oh no.
I'm expected to solve these damn PDEs in real time to price exotic derivatives, but they can't add up numbers in less than a week.
The days when City firms hosed money at IT companies are a memory as dim as when someone would be sent home for wearing a red tie. I need to find the sweet spot where cost and features have some sort of balance. This is a moving target, and often I'm working to a discipline of getting the best server I can for £15k.
Vendors often ask me what my budget is. This implies that some IT directors are dumb enough to tell them and thus get ripped off. This isn't an HP thing, but the natural pitch of any salesman. HP has some well documented issues on support, and the impression I get is that they're now not much better than Dell.
Their prices are different to Dell though. I'm not Dell's greatest fan, but I like the idea that I can play with configurations and costs until I get a result. I can even change my mind half way through when I see the cost of RAM.
When I bought my first PC server in the early 1990s it was a hairy task and I needed help to get it right. So I was glad to speak to a really sharp IBM rep who could help me. However, a bog standard workgroup file server or mid-level Exchange box is not rocket science.
Trust me on this, I do rocket science.
The HP rep said I could buy stuff on HP's site. Just for fun, I looked at their site, and I couldn't. Sure I could buy a server that my son could play with, but all the grown-up gear was locked away. I was supposed to talk to a salesperson before I could get a quote for this stuff.
Are HP servers so hideously complex or dangerous that I need counselling before I buy one ?
The process for buying a £15k server is stuck somewhere in the 19th century when people were starting to understand the impact telephones would have on their business. Part of the 'joy' of this process is haggling over price.
This implies that I don't have anything better to do. Sure I want good prices, but am increasingly intolerant of vendors who want to wear me down with arts graduate sales droids soaking up my time in order to wear me down to accept their price.
Dominic Connor is head of IT for King & Shaxson, a major City broker.
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