Consultant: The Dilemma of Manufacturer Events

Published Jan 19, 2012 00:00 AM
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One of the best posts in the 60+ comment Axis cruise discussion came from a professional security consultant who thoughtfully examined the issues involved in these events. On the one hand, the consultant explains the value these events can provide. On the other, the consultant shares his concerns with the process and structure of such events. Here it is in its entirety:

"This is a very difficult topic. I'll provide my input from a consultant's perspective with 18 years experience in the security and technology industry.  An event like the Axis event is very common in the security industry, unfortunately.  These events put us in a catch22 situation unlike most other professional situations we face.  Some consultants give other consultants a bad name. We all know firms that advertise the ability to provide consulting for an industry like security and then when an opportunity arises, they call their favorite rep and have them slap a spec and some drawings together for the consultant to package with the rest of their materials. And those of us that do it the right way have to compete against that. It is those consultants who are excited about these events and jump at a chance for a free trip in exchange for having to sit in a classroom for a few hours.  It's the price they pay for perks.

But for those of us with integrity, that are constantly trying to ensure we are doing things "the right way" these trips are viewed differently. It is not the act of sitting in the classroom for a few hours that we view as the "price we pay."  It is the act of going on the trip that is the "price we pay" for the perk - the perk to us is the technical, industry and business knowledge we gain.

The Need for Knowledge

Our business is a battle of knowledge, at least for those of us who have ethics in this business.  For those of us who wouldn't be caught dead putting a vendor's master spec or riser on our drawings, it takes knowledge and lots of it, to create internal master documents that accurately represent this industry. And in an industry that changes as fast as security does, maintaining those documents acccurately is a paramount challenge.

I have an obligation to the codified ethics of my profession first and foremost, and an obligation to my client second.  My obligation to the client is professional guidance based on the culmination of my career experiences and knowledge. "Professional guidance" for one, is guidance untainted by superficial influence.  In this field, I have to be a knowledge sponge, soaking up knowledge wherever and whenever I can get it.  I have to have technical knowledge about an industry and I have to product knowledge about products. When we work with a client and needs arise I've got to draw from my experience and knowledge to recommend a set of options to solve the problem.  The more knowledge that I have, the more effective I am as a consultant.

Unfortunately, at some point, the technology manufacturers decided it was easier to bring consultants to them rather than them coming to consultants. I am sure there is a cost analysis somewhere that said this is the best financial means to achieve their sales goals. This is likely because, unlike other consulting engineering fields, technology is largely populated by consultants that aren't licensed engineers and therefore do not have ethics codified into law.  Ethics is an option for them.

Benefits of Events

Bringing the consultants to the manufacturers is not all bad.  In the AV field, Extron and Creston both have very good technical training opportunities on their sites. They are extensive training sessions. They might fund a dinner or some entertainment in the evening but the significant majority of the time spent is on training.

We have and do attend these events. Why? Because if we don't, and miss any knowledge that is provided, that is one more opportunity for our competitors to have a piece of knowledge that we don't have. The more manufacturers use these events as their main source of knowledge dispersion, the more the competitive hit for not attending. Often at these events, product road maps are discussed. Missing a discussion of what is next is not a good position for a consultant to be in.  It is not that this knowledge might not be available another way. But to assemble it another way take MY billable time, MY resources and I have to spend both time and money in the most efficient way that I can to be successful.  Time and money both have ROI's.

Challenges of Events

Unfortunately, the manufacturers in the security industry have put us in a position where we must make a choice.  If I am going to be as competitive in my industry as I can, and be of greatest service to my client as I can, then I have to get this knowledge.  I have to get it where the knowledge is at.

Does this create an ethical dilemna?  Sure. I detest the security industry marketing executives for putting us in that position. It requires us to go to great lengths internally to ensure that there is no improper influence in the decisions we are making in the delivery of our service. The security manufacturers hold the knowledge that we need.  And now they've chosen the method by which they disperse it.

You have to wonder about the type of consultant that actually enjoys these trips. I travel between 30 - 50 nights a year for business. Conferences, client meetings, etc. If a manufacturer thinks that I enjoy being gone another 4 nights a year, away from my family, away from my kid's activities, to go listen to the Scott's of the world who I know will tell me anything for the sake of the sale, they are crazy.  What is kind of funny about this whole discussion is the superficial idea that these companies must have, that my integrity can be bought. If that works with others, it is sad commentary on our profession. My idea of a good time is not a social event with people who view me as a means to a sales metric - irrespective of whether my wife was invited or not.

This is not a black and white issue.  A trip somewhere with days filled with training that might be accompanied by a dinner in the evening is one thing. But if you look at the agenda of the particular event being discussed here, the perks/social time dwarfs the training time.  I think that is a mistake, it does a disservice to the very audience they are trying to impress upon and it puts us in a position that I resent being in.  But in the end, it comes down to that same question "do I need this knowledge or not?"  That is a judgment call.