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Ethics In Computer Consulting

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the stuff-to-think-about dept.

News 246

Brendan asks: "As a consultant running a small company I regularly deal with many different companies and many other consultants. I just witnessed a company be blatantly ripped-off for many thousands of dollars for a product that was totally unsuitable to their requirements. The consultant who recommended and will implement this system stands to make a substantial amount of money on the deal. This begs the question: What About Ethics?" This is a question that we should think about every so often. In this day and age of dot-coms and IPOs, we all should really think about why we are in this business. Sure, there is good money to be made, but in the end, we are all about providing a service, whether that service is constructing a Web site, running a network or administrating a Web discussion board. And while you are providing that service, don't you want to feel proud about the job you are doing?

"This is not an uncommon occurrence. Other consultancy firms seem to regularly help customers make decisions that are in the best interest of the consultancy and not of the client. If a sales person manages to convince a company that their product is the latest and greatest and it turns out to be useless software that crashes regularly then that is the sign of either a good salesman or a bad manager. Caveat Emptor.

Consultants are are supposed to provide a service, not sell a product. I know that the consultant is the product and there may be other products that the consultant uses that are beneficial to the client but that are not what the consultants purpose. The consultant (and this includes contractors) is hired by the company on the assumption that they will perform their duties to the benefit of the company as would any other staff member.

Is it ethically correct for me as a consultant to knowingly make decisions for the company that will increase the length or value of my contract even though I know it is not in their best interests? Obviously the answer is no.

I would hate to think that I am the exception to the rule but people in consulting with ethics appear to be few and far between. Where is the code of ethics for computing consultants and contractors? I have my own skeleton code of ethics but feel that it is time to put together a real one that could be used by consultants and contractors around the world. We are supposedly professionals and other professionals such as doctors and lawyers have one. Why not us?"

In a related question, E TiE asks: "What are good books for computer ethics and history?" Would anyone out there like to pass him a few ISBNs?

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RMS is a consultant.... (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458480)

Dear RMS,

I sent you two mails back in Autumn and you still haven't replied, I guess there was a problem with the mail server ... sometimes I type email addresses sloppy when I jot 'em...but anyways, how's it been going man? How's your Emacs going? I read about your PDP-11. I'm sorry man. My friend had a 486 that died when his modem got struck by lightning - the bitch blew up the NIC and then the motherboard, man. I know you probably hear this every day, but I'm your biggest fan. I ever got the latest GCC and the .au file of you singing the hacker song - man that shit was Phat. I got a room full of print-outs of your source code, man. That shit is Phat. Anyways, I hope you get this man, please mail me back, just to chat

Truly yours,

Your biggest Fan,

This is Steve.

Dear RMS,

I wrote you an email a while back and you still haven't replied or chatted to me on IRC - I ain't mad, I just think it's fucked up that you don't answer fans. You could have at least chatted to my hacker friend from Australia man - you're his idol man, he's only 6 years old, he likes you even more than I do - he waited for you on a MUD for 6 hours on 33.6 connection, man. You know, my dog gets jealous when I talk about you 24/7 ....she even gets put off her Science Diet dog food when I talk about you so much, man....but she don't know you like I know you, RMS....noone does. So email me back man - I'll be the biggest fan you'll ever lose,

Sincerely yours,

This is Steve

PS - We should be together, too!

Dear RMS,

I know you got my last two emails!! I wrote the addresses perfect and the mails didn't bounce!! So this is the WAV file I'm uploading to your FTP server!!!! I'm doing 90 on the highway....hear that in the background? That's my laptop man! I'm driving fast and the HDD is getting scratched...but that's OK...I can buy another one....you really messed up RMS...we could have been together....but now we won't....I hope you have bad dreams about it and wake up and scream about it!! Oh shit, how am I supposed to FTP this damn file, I left my cellular phone at home! Ahhhhh...I'm falling off the bridge, man....

Dear Steve,

I got your emails, sorry, I was too busy pondering the latest GPL to reply. It is very important that you release everything that you think about under the new GPL thinking license. It will be beneficial to society if you do, and it will ruin society if you don't, Steve. Remember, it's not about the technical quality, only about the social implications, Steve. What's all this about us being together? That's the kind of stuff that only a BSD license user would say. That's the kind of stuff that'll make me not want us to meet. I saw a really terrible thing on the newsgroups the other day....a guy was driving along ...drunk on the freeway....using a laptop full of commercial Windows(tm) software....and he went off the side of a bridge...come to think of it....man, it was you! Damn. See what I mean by the implications of commercial software on society??

RMS.

http://www.stallman.org

Doing a service, not makeing a sale (1)

hoss_33 (10488) | more than 13 years ago | (#458481)

I am selling services and together with these I am also selling hardware and software. I am trying to find the best solution for the clients. In the long term this is the best way for everybody involved.

Ethics and Economy (2)

robbway (200983) | more than 13 years ago | (#458482)

This is one of those cases that shows how good business ethics are good business profits. Of course you should do the right thing for your customer. If not, they will one way or another find out they've been had. No repeat business. No repeat business, no good references. No references no new business. Taken to extremes, the company will generate bad refernces.

Do what's best for the customer. It actually pays!

----------------------

the consumers don't usually matter (1)

Ben Schumin (312122) | more than 13 years ago | (#458483)

I used to be somewhat similar to you. Questioning the ethics of those around me. It seemed unebelivable. However, after doing the same for several years, you begin to realize. The customers are stupid. If you weren't there, they'd be doing something even worse with their money and time. Your only responsibility as a consultant is to make them just happy enough that they want you to come back, and hopefully keep them from going out of business so they can purchase your services in the future. If they're not smart enough to check up on your work, they really do deserve what they get. That's what being a BOFH is all about.

There are no ethics in consulting. (1)

AFCArchvile (221494) | more than 13 years ago | (#458484)

Basically, consultants tell company CEOs and CFOs what to do with the company. They don't actually do these things, and they're not tied to the company financially, so they couldn't care less if the plan goes bust. And so some consultants get cocky, and decide to make a company take a dive in what it thinks is a smart move.

Want to see evidence of this? Here's all the evidence you need [fuckedcompany.com] .

The answer is a no-brainer to me (2)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 13 years ago | (#458485)

When you go on to other consulting projects and they ask for references, the guy who didn't screw his client over will be the one more likely to get the job. Word of mouth does work. Ask Microsoft.
========================
63,000 bugs in the code, 63,000 bugs,
ya get 1 whacked with a service pack,

How long can something like this last? (2)

Carbonate (13973) | more than 13 years ago | (#458486)

I can't imagine a consultant lastling very long in the business if he continually rips off a customer. There are only so many businesses out there and after a while you need repeat business. If you continually rip off your clients they will never ask for you and spread the word. Soon You will find yourself with no clients and then out of business. But if you do keep your ethics you will find that repeat business will make up the majority of your clients.

Same problem here (4)

mduell (72367) | more than 13 years ago | (#458487)

My dad owns his own business (practice, actually) and he recently hired a comptuer consultant. From day one I knew that this guy wasnt any good. He replaced the server UPS with a model 3 times as big, even though the old one was more than adequate. Also, when my dads 1 year old tape drive died, rather than RMAing it (it had a 2 year warranty), he suggested that my dad should buy a new one (even though my dad had several hundred dollars worth of tapes for the old one). It too the consultant 3 weeks (no backups in the mean time, not a good idea) to find the drive to replace it with. When I inquired as to what was taking so long, he said that IDE tape drives with capacities larger than 4GB (the server HDD is 6GB, but only 2.5GB is used) were "rare and hard to find". Finally he put in an OnStream Echo30, which has 5 times the capacity that my dad needs, and now my dad has to buy all new tapes to replace the ones he purchased a year ago! All in all, its been no fun, and when my dad had the consultant come to our house to install some software, I promptly logged out and said, "Give me the disks, Ill install it myself" due to a previous instance with the consultant installing spyware!

Mark Duell in southern California, looking for a good comptuer consultant

Mark Duell

Smart Revenge (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458488)

I'd write up a "case-study" for the local paper or business organ, and use this example, thinly veiled, to point out what people should look for in a consultant. Good PR for your business, and you can make sure it gets distributed to the sucker company.

Liability? (1)

Kreeblah (95092) | more than 13 years ago | (#458489)

Are there any chances that unscrupulous consultants are opening themselves up for lawsuits? It seems to me that if someone could prove that a consulting firm ripped his company off by selling it a product that is far more expensive product than it needed, especially if the firm had an interest in the fact that the particular product was sold, it would be liable for some kind of conflict of interest suit. Any ideas?

Am I to suppose you had a better solution?... (1)

quanta (16565) | more than 13 years ago | (#458490)

"I just witnessed a company be blatantly ripped-off for many thousands of dollars for a product that was totally unsuitable to their requirements."

If it was that obvious, I think someone would have latched onto it. This is carrying coals to Newcastle. Yes ethics are important. Ask any lawyer who is reviewing that consulting contract you are about to sign...

Computer Consulting in a nutshell (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458491)

If company runs Windows, suggest they migrate to Linux.
If company runs Linux, suggest they migrate to BSD.
If company runs BSD, suggest they migrate to Windows.

Re:How long can something like this last? (1)

Phil Wilkins (5921) | more than 13 years ago | (#458492)

How long? Oh, the last thirty years at least...

I believe PT Barnum had something to say about suckers, although I think Moore's law is a better approximation to the actual curve.

It's a geek problem (2)

slashdoter (151641) | more than 13 years ago | (#458493)

The same things that make us geeks, also can make alot of us generally bad people. How many of you have joked about a user's problem rather than help. Sure some times they deserve it, but in my job (help desk) I have seen way to many people give the easy solution rather than the right one. This can branch to just lazyness, sure sell them the Microsoft solution and all will be well, cash the check and move on.


________

Ethical Consulting Pays (5)

Local Loop (55555) | more than 13 years ago | (#458494)

I get almost all of my new business from referrals. Being honest with my clients pays off directly in the form of new business

Besides, happy clients will utilize my services over and over.

That said, I have faced the temptation to do things not in the clients best interest - usually they'll ask for something they read about in a magazine and I'll have to explain why it isn't right for them. Of course, I now get called to help evaluate new technologies, so even this leads to new business

Treat your clients right and you'll never want for business again. Screw them and you'll always be struggling.

-Loopy

Re:What about this scenario? (1)

AFCArchvile (221494) | more than 13 years ago | (#458495)

Consider AOL and its 27,000,000 customers. Of all those customers, about 17,000,000 are disillusioned and have seen the light of a decent ISP. The remaining 10,000,000 are as dumb as squirrels, romping from chatroom to chatroom.

If AOL were a consulting group, they'd all be out on the streets begging for quarters.

Ethics Guides (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458496)

I'm not aware of any ethical guidelines for computing - it's mainly a case of individual corporations embracing ethical guidelines. Every engineering society that I know of has a set of ethical guidelines, however. Here's [apeg.bc.ca] the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC's code of ethics and here's [ieee.org] the IEEE code of ethics. (#s 2 and 7 would apply in this case if you were using these guidelines, #s 3,4,7, and 9 would apply from the APEG code) As far as your case go, the particulars are very important to determining whether you are ethically bound to speaking out.

Re:How long can something like this last? (1)

fdicostanzo (14394) | more than 13 years ago | (#458497)

someone please mod this up as funny! i loved it!

oh wait, was it serious?

I screw 'em every chance I get (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458498)

for example, I sold Rob the lameness filter and the patented slashdot-anti-troll perl code. We're in negotiations for version 2 as we speak.

"Ethical" consultants will prevail anyway (3)

IntelliTubbie (29947) | more than 13 years ago | (#458499)

I don't think this necessarily needs to be a profits vs. ethics dichotomy. Obviously a consultant that looks to squeeze every last dime out of its customers will make more money in the short term, but its customers will suffer in the long term as a result. Especially now that the dot-com bubble has burst and investors are demanding real profits, a successful company needs to trim the fat -- whether that means laying off extraneous employees or firing an exploitative consulting firm. Companies that employ these swindlers won't be able to compete with those who get honest consulting advice. Ultimately, they'll fold, taking the reputations of the "unethical" consulting firms with them. So you can be ethical and make $$$, too.

Cheers,
IT

IN IT FOR THE MONEY (2)

cculianu (183926) | more than 13 years ago | (#458500)

Unfortunately, time and time again I run across people that lack the passion and pride I think a tech person should have.

A lot of the people I meet in my professional life are just in it for the money. To me, it's sad and sickening to see the 'art of ware' -- programming -- being corrupted and twisted in such an ugly way. I say this because usually the developers I know that are simply doing it for the money are the lousiest developers. Often I have to clean up after them -- not only is their style ugly, but a lot of the time they don't bother to actually solve the problem correctly. They miss the point or don't care to cover all the extreme contingencies.

It's like they write this glossy code which obviously took little tought, minimal effort, and seems to do the job at least for a little while.

If you are one of the developers out there who really hates programming, and really couldn't give a rat's ass about the art -- I ask you to consider either changing your attitude or getting out of the profession. People like you are the reason why the rest of us have to suffer out there!

I suffer BEFORE I get a job.. because half the time the people hiring me have been so BURNED by boastful, greedy, lying developers that they have to be very skeptical. After I manage to convince the person that's hiring me that I am actually competent, I then have to usually pick up after the greedy jerk of a developer that came before me. I have to take his ugly, beastly, hulking, diseased code and hopefully turn it into something halfway decent. Usually these people write the most spaghetti-like, poorly documentated, obfuscated, uncommented, ugly code.. It sickens me!

Ethics? there are NEVER ANY ETHICS (2)

corran__horn (178058) | more than 13 years ago | (#458501)

Look at Swiss banks, they held the money stored by victems of the holocaust, look at any case where money is involved and you will see a lack of ethics. Drug dealers will kill one another just as soon as looking. In economics there is very little on ethics, it is a cold law of suppily and demand. People are numbers in economics(and by extension politics), workers in the 1870-1930 were disregarded in issues of safty. Even slavery is alike, no ethics for profit. If greed is involved very few people will act ethically.

If people can connect to one another even the smallest of voices will grow loud.

Tip of the iceberg? (2)

WasterDave (20047) | more than 13 years ago | (#458502)

Consultants are the least of our worries. What has always concerned me are the ethics of "time and materials" outsourcing. For those new to the gag it goes like this: Acme ask Megasoft to write them some bespoke code. Megasoft say "Sure thing, we haven't specified the project correctly yet, but I estimate it will cost seven million dollars". Acme, strangely enough, shit themselves at which point Megasoft suggest that they proceed in a more cautious manner and that Acme pay their developers per hour plus the kit needed to do it.

And it seems like a good idea.

Suckered! Now, at what point is there any onus on Megasoft to manage this project correctly? Why, exactly, should they hire developers who are any good when the crap ones take so much longer? The only dilemma Megasoft have is whether or not to hire some testers, who would be chargeable, but run the risk of preventing the project from going hugely over budget....

Yeah, I have a problem with this whole situation.

Dave

Missing the boat, man... (5)

iElucidate (67873) | more than 13 years ago | (#458503)

In this day and age of dot-coms and IPOs, we all should really think about why we are in this business. Sure, there is good money to be made...
I'm thinking maybe Cliff put this story in the queue a year ago and Slash just decided to start displaying it now? I mean, it's funny that we talk about quality in our work on a commercial web site that seems to lack any idea of what editing is. It's weird we talk about .com (mil/bil)lionaires in an age when most of the stupid .coms have dies off. Its weird that we forget about caveat emptor - buyer beware. Its stupid that we expect car mechanics to be liers and cheats, but we expect computer mechanics to be truthful and pure. Okay, I'll stop the flaming now.

I have seen good consultants, I have seen bad consultants. I have seen good and bad people in all walks of life. Unlike many other jobs out there, computer programming and computer science is one where ethics are treated with importance during the learning process. I know that every computer science class I have taken has talked at one time or another about the ethics of managing systems, of writing programs, of handling information. I know there are plenty of college ethics classes available at most colleges that teach computer-related fields. The information and discussion is out there, and I would hope that any computer anything worth his or her salt would have taken a few of them.

Perhaps we need a certifying organization like many other industries out there? Not Microsoft-certified, not being called a Realtor (tm), and certainly nothing like TRUSTe, but maybe some kind of board that would allow people to be certified members in good standing, and then based on complaints about them and recommendations and positive comments made, they could keep or lose their membership. It would be an online system, of course, with a small fee, and then potential employers would be able to check feedback profiles.

Just an idea, it would probably take a lot more thought to work out all the details.

the oldest profession.... (4)

ndfa (71139) | more than 13 years ago | (#458504)

consultant --> Techie Hooker
consulting firm --> the Pimp!

its a comparison that i keep hearing... and hey its funny, so dont start a flame. Hell when i was in college i was pimped out many a times to do troubleshooting (low class techie hooker;)

what do you ppl. think ? ? ?

It doesn't "beg the question"... (1)

Nightpaw (18207) | more than 13 years ago | (#458505)

it "raises the question". "Begging the question" is a form of argument that uses circular logic. Look it up.

Cynical about this (1)

TarPitt (217247) | more than 13 years ago | (#458506)

The folks who hire consultants usually have no idea about technology - either as a product or as a process. Not having any technical means to evaluate a consultant, they will hire the one with the style and marketing pitch that makes them feel best. Also, many executives in larger companies have achieved their status not through any technical competence, but by playing company politics, playing golf with the right people, etc. These sort of folks of course respond well to the same approach if used by a consultant.

I wish I could say the marketplace weeds out the charlatans, but it actually seems to encourage them. Ultimately, the reasons for hiring a consultant are political - to justify a decision already made, to take the fall for difficult choices (e.g., inevitable layoffs), or to provide a scapegoat for a flawed internal process. Only when the political process goes awry does the consultant suffer.

Basically, the folks hiring the consultant wouldn't know a good technical product if they stepped on it, and even if they could distinguish technical quality, its not the reason they hired the consultant to begin with.

Non Profit (1)

stigmatic (310472) | more than 13 years ago | (#458507)

Maybe someone should create something like an "Organization for Computer Constultants", which members would pay say $30.00 (US) to be listed within a spam free database which those who have used their services can comment on those consultants.

I've seen people in the industry without a clue about their left from their right hands, and what it should come down to, is the person scouting for the person they hired being more thorough instead of just throwing money out of the window.

Within that database, consultants could also post about the companies they've done work for since it is also a two way street and if anyone hasn't noticed, the flurry of dot.com's which went DOA, have left many consultants in the dark with past due bills unpaid. So this topic shouldn't have been solely focused on rip off artists.

Had the recruiter had at least a substantial amount knowledge in the industry, I'm sure it'd be harder to be taken by a con. This again boils down to the company and their standards of procedures (which seem to be none.)

Jessica Alba nude [antioffline.com]

the real world and possible real solutions (2)

Eil (82413) | more than 13 years ago | (#458508)


Sure, there is good money to be made, but in the end, we are all about providing a service, whether that service is constructing a Web site, running a network or administrating a Web discussion board. And while you are providing that service, don't you want to feel proud about the job you are doing?

Hoo boy, that sure sounds nice, but would you please like to join the rest of us in reality? Don't get me wrong, I want an ethical world with ethical businesses just as much as the next guy. Perhaps even more so.

But if the last decade has shown us anything about the human race, it's that we can be damn creative and inventive when it comes to technology, but we still tend to push aside things like ethics, morality, and general kindness in the persuit of our own wealth or power. In other words, I don't see anything changing. But I will continue to fight the good fight as long as it exists or until I perish, whichever comes first.

However, I can think of at least one particular solution to the problem of ethics in computer consulting... a meta-consulting organization of some type analogous to the Better Business Beareau. (Which technically covers consultants anyway.) It merely needs to be a place of authority that businesses can go to and check up on a consultant they are considering to see if complaints have been logged in the past.

Of course, this simple idea would need a lot of work to become useful due to the possibility of abuse. If some consultants are being big enough shysters to go ahead and let a company spend needless millions, is it a far stretch to go logging fictious complains against your competitors? What about those who might be in cahoots with whoever runs the organization? And it need not be limited to computer consultants either. Mayhaps ISPs? PC Service centers? Freelance programmers?

The reason I put a bit of thought into this post is because I might aspire to be a consultant one day (I think I know my kit fairly well) and I don't want to see myself just sitting next to the telephone waiting for it to ring because No One Trusts A Consultant(tm).

Two solutions... (1)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 13 years ago | (#458509)

With any sort of consulting business, there is this question of conflioct of interest. There are two solutions to this that immediately strike me.

One: if you're the hirer of the consultant, get a second opinion. Ask another consultant. Check the media. Determine if the consultant is recommending this because it's good for you or if he/she's recommending it because it's good for him/her.

My second idea is more theoretical than anything else. Charge clients an annual fee for your services, regardless of what they do with your advice. This removes a lot of COI questions, imo.

IEEE/ACM has ethics guidelines... (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458510)

IEEE/ACM has ethics guidelines... [computer.org]

Also, "After the Gold Rush" by Steve McConnell is pretty good.

Re:RMS is a consultant.... (1)

jgaynor (205453) | more than 13 years ago | (#458511)

Someone PLEASE mod this up. Its worth more than a zero! - off topic but HILARIOUS!

when I worked for gateway (1)

LennyDotCom (26658) | more than 13 years ago | (#458512)

I the gateway country stores
I was always amazed by the sales people
in the small Biz department they would sell
some serious servers with NT for a small office
with maybe 4 workstations the bill was very expensive
Plus the people had know clue how to set up or maintain
these systems.
It was a very ugly situation.
The real problem though is that the sales people really didn't know
any better they just sold people what ever gateway offered

stop by a gateway counrty store yourself you'll see what I mean

"Consulting Ethics" is _not_ an oxymoron. (3)

s390 (33540) | more than 13 years ago | (#458513)

Rather, performing consulting work ethically is essential to your survival and long-term success.

The rationale of all your consulting work is to help your clients succeed: "Help your customer succeed, and you will share in their success!" is one of my email heading tags.

You don't help your clients well by falling into conflict-of-interest situations, overcharging for your services, or failing to solve their problems in the most efficient ways.

Individual consultants (and even large consulting firms) that forget or overlook this basic business truth eventually see their jobs dwindle, customer base diminish, etc.

When you see ethical lapses, report them (either within your firm, or directly to your client if you're independent). Your views will be valued, even if your firm or client takes no immediate action, simply because you were honest with them.

Then again, there are a lot of grey areas and your assessments should be based upon objective facts, rather than personal preferences. Be careful - don't accuse lightly.

This is an important topic. I'll be interested to see what others have to say about it. However, as a person who "resigned" from a Big-5 firm because I refused to lie to a big client, I've lived this. (And yes, I have a good job with a better firm now, partly because I observed consulting ethics.)

A good example (1)

dataarea (206824) | more than 13 years ago | (#458514)

I work in Montreal. My boss signed a few years long contract with a major solution provider.

I won't name the company, but let's say it's a rather large one, and very very well known.

Oh well, XYZ billed our company 60k CAN$ to install a simple firewall running Linux.

If my company can afford a 60k$ firewall, they can certainly give me a good raise! :)

Re:How long can something like this last? (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 13 years ago | (#458515)

But if you do keep your ethics you will find that repeat business will make up the majority of your clients.

Agreed 100%. Good ethics is also the best advertising around. Do an excellent job at a fair price and your client's friends and associates will start calling you.

Groovy (1)

prla (310556) | more than 13 years ago | (#458516)

My parents also run a business which needs a computer network running. When the company guys went there to install the machines, even if it's a window$ network, they provided accurate service and all. And why? Cuz my parents hadn't paid for the service yet. Obviously after they got the money, they hardly come over for mantainance. This is also clearly a problem of ethics.

The problem is there are few really competent companies on the business.And I agree when people say it's a lazyness problem too.

The real problem... (1)

waswas (312634) | more than 13 years ago | (#458517)

The REAL problem here is that the people who hire consultants tend not to even consider these issues. I have seen far too many consultants be allowed to make very large business decisions unhindered by management that brings them in. In many large consulting firms consultants are expected to push more services they are after all employees of a company whose business is to sell services/product. In fact many consultants make a bonus based on how much they can extend services or by how much they bill in a time period. This leads to the consultant having a choice to make -- sell more (sometimes unneeded hours/products) and succeed as a consultant or be ethical and do what is right by the company that is paying for your services. It seems like the later road is the least followed today. -Waswas

There are a lot of dipshits in the industry (2)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 13 years ago | (#458518)

I was getting horror stories from some folks in South Florida (No suprise there, I guess) about consultants. One bunch of folks had a guy who ran a REALLY crapulous network for them; file transfers were based on luck more than anything else. Another fellow had a consultant in who couldn't even replace a freaking floppy drive.

There's a lot of money in this industry and it's attracted a lot of utter morons. Let the buyer beware.

Interesting as I'm pondering (1)

prisoner (133137) | more than 13 years ago | (#458519)

setting up my own consultancy (sp?). In talking with a few potential clients, I get the feeling that computer consultants (generalists, not coders, etc) are rapidly falling into the same category as mechanics and handymen. Viewed with no small amount of skepticism and customers tend to go with the "lesser of two evils" theory more often than not. WRT this particular question, there's never been a moment of indecision in my own mind: having a reputation that is solid and beyond reproach will always lead to more business than you can handle. Even if you don't care a whit about ethics, always do what is in the clients best interest. It won't take long for the word to get around if you don't.

one anecdote... (1)

sethgecko (167305) | more than 13 years ago | (#458520)

my upstairs neighbor is a computer consultant. he hired me once to help on a job. the job was to make sure that a company's (about 30 computers) move from one office building to another went smoothly. the company was paying him to come over and turn on (y ep, just turn on) the computers to make sure the move went okay. the actual moving was outsourced to a different company, the wiring of the new company was outsourced. he was there to *supervise* the whole thing. I guess no one in the company was smart e n ough to be able to plug things in correctly themselves. anyway, the thing i remember most was when he powered up their server: no video. the monitor cable was loose, so, yeah, no video. what does he do? turn it off, yank open the case, and put his hands all over _every_ card inside. he puts it all back together, plugs the vga cable back in (properly, this time), and voila, video. the company's *computer guy* was watching the whole thing and had no idea that touching every card inside the computer was no t a good idea, particularly without taking any precautions for ESD. to be fair, I don't think my neighbor realized the vga cable was loose.

anyway, that was the last time I worked with him. I figure he did just enough damage to make the server continu ously fail over a period of a couple years: enough to insure that he gets to play consultant for that company for a long time to come.

Consultants are like Norton Utilities: if they look busy enough, people are fooled into thinking that they're doin g a good job.
P

More common than you think... (4)

HerringFlavoredFowl (170182) | more than 13 years ago | (#458521)

Case study in point, I work for a small company

They decided is was high time to get a real network connection (fractional T1 512KB data, 512Kb voice). They where worried about script kiddies and the likes so they said we have to have a firewall of some sort. Smart move, the provider recommended this consulting firm out of Salem NH.

They quote, I say it's not gonna work, our programming coop agrees. We get 4 different quotes from 4 different vendors, all cost less and I like the technologies (netscreen, sonic wall, 24/7 monitoring services, Cisco's ect...).

I get over ruled, because this other company was recommended by our ISP...

They wipe out our MRP system for the month of December, Keep us from shipping product for the better part of the month. Finally they get the system installed, wipe out email for one of our two subnets, still not resolved, keep pointing fingers at everyone as to why things aren't working, first the ISP, then the Bay Network stacks that connect the two networks, then our computers, ect. They go way over budget, a firewall that was supposed to cost $10,000 has now cost us $30,000. And to top it off the proxy server blue screens every 24 to 36 hours...

Solution I blow up at the one of the VP's so bad on friday that he closes his door and we get into a shouting match. I doubt I will get a favorable review this year, but we are heaving that Windows 2000 Server Proxy server running otis proxy software into the dumpster and reconfiguring the Cisco 2611 it was behind to properly route data from the two subnets to the outside world and act as a firewall. Then placing Zone Alarm on the individual user machines as a second layer Firewall.

Who will reconfigure the Cisco, probally the same consultants...

You can't win, I've had plenty of computer consultants leave really bad tastes in my mouth.

TastesLikeHerringFlavoredChicken

Re:Missing the boat, man... (1)

prisoner (133137) | more than 13 years ago | (#458522)

this is a good idea and I can't believe that it doesn't exist out there somewhere. I think guru has a system like this but there isn't shit in the guru database. At least in my area anyways.

hmm (1)

niekze (96793) | more than 13 years ago | (#458523)

They have Business Ethics and Medical Ethics, but not Technical Ethics (i took a science/technology/human values class, but it isn't what you would think)

Quality does not seem to be a major issue for CS or MIS tracks of study. What happens when hospitals use devices and software that isn't quality? It is obvious that ethics, quality, and for God's sake *secure* coding should all be valued far more in university CS/MIS departments. Personally, I'm double majoring in Philosophy and Computer Science. You wouldn't think they go together, but actually the AI concentration is filled with advanced logic and philosophy of the mind classes.

Been there, seen that... (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | more than 13 years ago | (#458524)

I'm an IT consultant for one of the big 5 consulting companies, and our work ethic is to make our clients' issues our issues. Of course, it would be naive to believe that everyone in the company follows this directive, but a lot of us do try.

I have seen a lot of clients jaded at the mere mention of "consultant", mainly due to prior experiences with these sub-par idiots who do rip off their clients. After being burned one, two, three times, a company becomes very reluctant to use consultants again. We have a hard enough time try to get new business; I can only imagine how some of these shoddy consultants ever get work again.

Basically, it comes down to smart business and proper ethics. If you screw someone for a quick buck, your credibility and future business opportunities go down the drain.

Just like most things in life, the best things are neither free nor easy- and in this case it is a job well done, the satisfaction deriving from that, and good continued business.

Harvester Consultant. (1)

Steeg (140366) | more than 13 years ago | (#458525)

I and a growing number of people are on the flip side of this ethical question. Rather than sell software a company doesn't need, we harvest software from the Free software community. We are internal company consultants that exist because of the Free Software industry. In my case our company is a Biotechnology company that sells chemicals and software is just what we need to operate. The growing body of Free Software and Open Software has allowed me to move into role of internal consultant. I gather the software we need and modify it to fit the needs of my company. The ethicial question for me is how to give back to the community. To address this, I have been working for the last 5 years migrating our internal coding practices to be in line with Free Software practices. I am working toward a day when every line of code we produce is by default free.

THE TRUTH!!!!! (2)

prisoner (133137) | more than 13 years ago | (#458526)

This, in my "big company" experience, is (sadly) more often true than not. It's the reason that I stick with smaller companies. I worked for a fairly large company that ran call centers. My boss, the CIO, more than once hired a consultant to "evaluate our options" even though he had the recommendations written and ranked from his in-house staff. This frustrated me to no end and one day I asked him about it. He told me in no uncertain terms the only reason he did it was to cover his ass and provide ammo in his fights with other departments.....

I don't think so... (2)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 13 years ago | (#458527)

I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I *do* help the all customers, even the stupid ones! I try to be polite, find the problem and for some even explain what they did wrong. You would be surprised how often they are grateful. Of course you need that little thing called "patience".
Now, for the kidding: yes, I do laugh with their stupidity, but mostly in the form of anecdotes in presence of my peers. Tales mostly start as "Oh, I knew this user who did this hilarious thing, etc...."

"Consulting Ethics" is _definitely_ an oxymoron. (1)

BVis (267028) | more than 13 years ago | (#458528)

Folks, look around you. I've worked for several consulting companies. They will sell you out for the cost of a latte at the drop of a hat. The clients wouldn't need to hire you if they were willing to pay for the employees (at a substantial savings, hourly) to tell them what you tell them.
Their being cheap and short sighted is not your fault. Most employees enjoy no more job security than the average consultant these days, and are fired as readily when it fits some executive asshole's whim. Corporate America is all about screwing the little guy.
Sometimes the little guys (consultants) need to screw them back. Any big company that *could* hire a full time employee to handle a need but goes with the quick and dirty method of hiring a temp (which is really what most consultants are) deserves whatever it gets.

But it is more likely... (1)

Colossus (9063) | more than 13 years ago | (#458529)

That people who suggest these solutions are just lacking in the technical knowledge and know how to offer up a better solution? I see this all the time. People who seem very intelligent over all making bad calls like this because they lack exposure to other things. What do you think?

Australian Computer Society Code of Ethics (2)

n2143666 (266255) | more than 13 years ago | (#458530)

Code of Ethics [acs.org.au]

There are diciplinary action for breaches to.

Re:Missing the boat, man... (2)

XJoshX (103447) | more than 13 years ago | (#458531)

" I know there are plenty of college ethics classes available at most colleges that teach computer-related fields. The information and discussion is out there, and I would hope that any computer anything worth his or her salt would have taken a few of them."


Ok. I totally agree that what goes on out there everyday in the consulting field is complete BS, but I doubt making everybody take a few classes would be that much help.
The guys at the consulting firm in question know they're pulling crap and don't care about the ethics. No amount of ethics teaching can change someone who doesn't have ethics.

I would say a better solution would be good old capitalism (I can hear jonkatz rolling in his grave).
If you see a company getting horrible service just offer them a better one. If you can point out the flaws with the other company's recomendations than they should, if they have any common sense, go with you instead. Not only do you save a company a lot of money and trouble, you make money!

We feed on our own (2)

OwnedByTheMan (169684) | more than 13 years ago | (#458532)

In my view, the largest corruption problem is the fact that we are, in effect, self-policing. As Boolean as our world is, there is still a great deal of subjective comparison that is made.

Look at Slashdot, anyone who is a regular reader here is aware of the amazing amount of divergent opinions present on any number of topics by our community.

How many times have you been in, or overheard, a conversation with contemporaries and heard things like "That guy didn't know what the hell he was doing..." or "I guess that is how Company XYZ does it but we do it right etc...". I am sure I will be taken to task for the generalization but we are a very cannabalistic bunch and we all have a very distinct idea of what is good Kung-Fu and what is paper MCSE stuff. We also don't mind sharing our opinions. This story is a good example. I don't know the details of the situation but who am I to judge that the submitter isn't the real idiot who wouldn't know a good plan if it bit him. No offense, I am sure that isn't the case but I am sure not going to take him at face value. People who don't know jack about computers (read most of the population) will certainly listen to him though, right or wrong.

Anyone who has been in a computer store and listened to a salesman talk about another computer store's products or staff knows exactly what I mean. It's no wonder people don't trust us. We all tell them not to trust the next guy. Unfortunately, he is sayng the same thing and he sounds just as smart and knowledable as you.

Re:What about this scenario? (1)

purple_rider (309236) | more than 13 years ago | (#458533)

I think you may have miscounted the squirrels.

Re:Ethical Consulting Pays (2)

Alatar (227876) | more than 13 years ago | (#458534)

Sure, you can tread the straight and narrow. But what if you could make in two screw-the-customer projects what you make in twenty honest contracts? Let's be honest here...no company will be put out of business by an exorbitant consulting fee...if the company's finances are that bad, they have other problems. It's rather like taking a casino's money...no one person loses, and you win...big. If you acquire a reputation, there are always greener pastures where people haven't heard of you.

I might not necessarily advocate this point of view, but there are certainly those out there that do.

Word of quality gets around (2)

jesterzog (189797) | more than 13 years ago | (#458535)

I'd blame bad management myself, at least in part. There's low quality workmanship in every profession, and the managers are the ones who aren't checking up.

When we bring in consultants around here they usually don't come straight out of the phone book. Instead, we ask around, asking people and friends in other businesses of their opinions about consultants.

If a consultant did a bad job or made bad reccommendations, word gets around and we won't hire them. Reputation is everything to some businesses, and they'll pay for reputation through the nose.

If you want to build up a reliable, well paying customer base, don't worry so much about what others are doing. Just do a good job, don't rip people off, maybe and see if you can get some of your customers to reccommend you - especially in writing that you can flash around in front of other customers.


===

The solution... (1)

joestar (225875) | more than 13 years ago | (#458536)

Use systems such as MandrakeExpert.com [mandrakeexpert.com] where you can give a note to provider of the service you have bought (here it is online services, but you can imagine all kind of services).

Re:Same problem here (1)

shinji1911 (238955) | more than 13 years ago | (#458537)

Your problem isn't the fact that he's unethical, but that he's an asshole. The general term for remedying these situations is known as "kicking his ass," or more politically correct: "taking legal action".

Re:Ethics Guides (2)

Shadow_Bwa (29797) | more than 13 years ago | (#458538)

The ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) has a set of computer/IT ethics. http://www.acm.org/

Re:Liability? (1)

purple_rider (309236) | more than 13 years ago | (#458539)

Unlikely. The COMPANY bought the product. In court, what would they say: "They made me"? Most companies would probably write it off, and hire another consultant. So the cycle continues...

Re:the oldest profession.... (1)

chompz (180011) | more than 13 years ago | (#458540)

I'm still a techie hooker. Of course, I am still in college, but I've been pimped out to do jobs without pay, even. Just to advance the position of the pimp. Pretty sad, really. I'll get even

The Ethics? Thats part of the business... (1)

OpenBeaver (312596) | more than 13 years ago | (#458541)

Any company that screws its clients without giving a damn is going to become unstuck at some point. Company A employess Company B to do something and Company B charges them 10x over the odds for this. They (Company A) find out at some point that this is going on and then they find someone else to do their work (IT in this case).

If anyone needs an example look at whats going on with (Linux|BSD|etc) and Microsoft. People see they get a raw deal and start to move away. It isnt instant and it can sometimes take the dumb ones several helpings of getting cheated before they realise but it will happen in time.

No special ethics necessary (2)

Kefaa (76147) | more than 13 years ago | (#458542)

First a disclaimer, not knowing the ins and outs, I can only make a couple of assumptions:
1 - you do not know the intimate details and may not understand what the client has asked for. If they asked for wizbang1 because they read about it AND it is the only solution they will accept, than wizbang1 is what they get.

I have seen this on several occasions with J2EE. Clients want J2EE products even though they cannot describe what it is or why they want it. EJBs same thing. Gotta be EJBs...only way to go. You can talk until you are blue, but someone has put the seed in them and this dog won't hunt.

This is no more unethical than denying people Porsches because they can use a Chevy to get from work and home. Once you told them, and told them, in the end it is their money. Now if you fail to tell them, then we get into #2.

2 - you do know the intimate details and can speak to the specific issue at hand. At that point, if the money has not been spent, speak up. [If it has been spent remain silent for life] You would be surprised at who people will listen to when they are about to spend big money. Remember to be specific and LISTEN. Most poor consultants cover themselves with generalizations and ambiguous explanations about "the future". You will need to make your points better than they have with alternative solutions. If you tell them Jim's ideas suck, without an alternative you have not done them or yourself any favors.

In the end, if they decide to go with the other options anyway, remember to be a good sport, try to make the chosen solution work, and never go for the "I told you so"

We do not need an ethical standard for consultants and computer development. We just need to have the ethics of a human that does the best job they can, under the circumstances presented, without hurting their fellow human beings. It is really the basic "do unto others..." doctrine. Consultant or convenience store clerk, it is the same.

Ethics really do pay off (1)

bwalling (195998) | more than 13 years ago | (#458543)

I know it seems like the companies that are screwing people are making good money, but they never last long. They will not get referrals, and they will end up with a bad reputation.

I witnessed one of my largest clients get screwed by a company that attempted to upgrade their NT 4 server to 2 processors. They installed the second processor, ran some uptomp.exe thing from the resource kit, and completely ruined the server. It would not boot. They spent two days trying to fix it without restoring from tape (because, they pointed out, you'd still have a single processor kernel if you did that). After two days, I convinced my client to get rid of them and let me fix the server. The company then billed my client for 32 hours (two people, two days) at $175/hr for the creation of this mess!

I know several people who own their own consulting companies, and they get all of their business from word of mouth. They are up front and honest and will even tell the client that the client does not need their services when that is the case. It very much impresses people when you take less time that you estimated, or recommend that they not spend their money on something they are asking for because you can do it in a cheaper, better way.

On a related note, my father is in sales and has often had similar problems. He often found that when he started at a new company or in selling a product in a new field that he lagged behind the dishonest sales people who sold products customers didn't need and stole customers from their coworkers. He found that in every field, he became very successful for being honest with people. He also found that many times if he told someone that a competitor had a product that was more suited to them, they would buy from him anyway because they trusted him.

Yes, it would be extremely useful to have an accepted code of ethics for consulting (and sales is somewhat related to this). If this was well known and accepted, it would be easy to use to show how effective consultants were. Somewhat of a measuring stick, I guess. It would also give more substance to the word of mouth reviews about a consultant because you would have something to point to and say 'they did all these things which were harmful to my business'.

Ethics vs Hell Customers (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#458544)

The main problem I see is the fight between "being what is commonly said for being ethical" and the unethical "customers from hell" that we all sometimes deal with.

The problem is that the common rules for ethics are flawed. There are weaknesses in the common rules for ethics because while they promote various virtues, they also promote weakness in the face of unethical behavior by others.

This is a problem, and opens a can of worms.

After all, we have all known customers from hell, and have tried various ways to deal with them. The failure to deal with them to make them "happy" justifies the screw-over. This is part of the road to hell.

Of course, there are also the pointy haired boss types, etc. who look just for the fast buck. The various monsters of the business world, the vampires, the zombies, the ghouls.

So what is needed is something of a code or principles of common sense that that allow us the freedom to be ethical and also allow ourselves to protect ourselves.

I am sure that if I were to offer something, there would be many cynical critics who would say how trite or contrived.

So let's see what the community has to say first.

Re:the consumers don't usually matter (4)

archmedes5 (106202) | more than 13 years ago | (#458545)

Ben Shumin Said:
The customers are stupid. If you weren't there, they'd be doing something even worse with their money and time.
Wow, thats a rather elitist view of things. Keep in mind, that as a consultant, you're providing a service to someone who either doesn't have the time, or knowhow to set up their networks and computers. Bilking customers, especially when it's widespread, tends to put the whole industry in a bad light. (Whats your opinion of car mechanics in general, do they all derserve it?)
Your only responsibility as a consultant is to make them just happy enough that they want you to come back, and hopefully keep them from going out of business so they can purchase your services in the future.
Which you can't do by bilking your client. If you recommend something they don't need and they buy it, they end up wasting money. Do it too much and going out of business is exactly whats going to happen to them, (and maybe you) So being honest and ethical can be profitable too.
If they're not smart enough to check up on your work, they really do deserve what they get.
And if they are, you're screwed, unless of course you really do have their interests in mind. (Thats what they're paying you for right?)

Of course that doesn't mean you can't recommend higher quality products, that fit within what they're trying to do, which may incidentially cost more (but fail less, thus costing less on the long run), but keep in mind that you're working for *them*, they've hired you to work for them. People who tend to screw over their employers, often find them selves without a job.

ACM code of ethics (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458546)

With this many replies I would have thougth someone would already have mentioned the Association for Computing Machinery's code of ethics: http://www.acm.org/constitution/code.html

Re:Smart Revenge (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#458547)

But whatever you do, don't ever tell the company itself that it got screwed. You will never be forgiven for being right.

Re:More common than you think... (1)

BVis (267028) | more than 13 years ago | (#458548)

The fault there lies with management who, over your reccomendations, selected these consultants for no good reason other than the ISP liked them.

Moving to a frac T is a signifigant jump in complexity. Perhaps they should have (gasp) HIRED someone full time to maintain it? Would be lots lots cheaper in the long run.

Too bad most companies have a vision only slightly longer than the end of their eyelashes.

Re:Missing the boat, man... (1)

bwalling (195998) | more than 13 years ago | (#458549)

A certification would have to work somewhat like this:

You get certified by some means. Taking courses, whatever.

You can lose your certification by taking actions which are considered detrimental to your client/customer. These actions must be verfiably damaging according to some accepted, structured set of rules.

It would have to be difficult to regain your Trustworthiness.


This would almost be like your credit rating. Clients could see a trust history on you. However, it would take some work to stop people from building up fake trust records and whatnot. Although, if negative ratings were counted strongly, someone couldn't go far on a fake good rating before they were marked negatively.

Re:Liability? (1)

Kreeblah (95092) | more than 13 years ago | (#458550)

Yes, but lawyers can be sued for giving bad legal advice, and doctors can be sued for giving bad medical advice. Nobody forced their clients to do what they said, either. The whole premise behind a consulting company is to receive guidance from a knowledgable, unbiased third party.

What a sorry attitude... (2)

janimal (172428) | more than 13 years ago | (#458551)

It is sad that this kind of "whatever" mentality is prevelant even among the non-teenage highschool dropout group.

This is bad news not only for the industry, but for the whole country.

To see responsible professional attitude, just look at Germany. Their engineering is the envy of the world.

To see Mr. Schumin's attitude in widespread use, visit Russia. The world's most expensive dump; all because the prevailing mentality there is "screw your neighbour if you can get away with it."

Over and out.

Janimal

Answer to Consultancy Ethics. (1)

MantiX (64230) | more than 13 years ago | (#458552)

I myself run a small business, dealing with consulting to many different companies, mostly based around IT.

However, I take the standpoint, that I don't believe a lot of people in the industry take. I am merely as a consultant, working for the company part time. It is still my job, to take the interests of that company, to be the most important.

At the end of the day, this means being fair, and whilst my fees per hour usually do not change, I will attempt to give them the best possible deal economically, and evaluate these situations.

My recommendations are based upon what the company NEEDS, what the company can afford, even whether they can afford my time. It is this attitude that has built up for myself a business rep, and based upon this I have healthy business relationship with many clients.

In so far as other consultancy, once again, my interests are for the company. I would call a meeting with the GM, or 2IC etc.., to, as fairly and as calmy as possible, say, I don't believe you need this technology, these are the reasons a) b) and c), and here are your different alternatives. These are the possible reasons why what is being recommended is good, and weigh them up and give your evaluation of the pros vs the cons.

Being able to evaluate in this fashion, demonstrates an unobjective ability, and they should at least be able to consider what it is you have to recommend.

Having said that, a number of times, I have had competing interests recommend solutions, to which I can, and will only say, correct, what they have recommended is a good solution, and will work well for you.

It comes down, to you are consulting in the interests of your client, not necessarily just IT.

Ethics among Recruiters; I won't deal with them (5)

goingware (85213) | more than 13 years ago | (#458553)

As a consultant, I get a lot of calls from headhunters and contract employment brokers.

But as a result of many horror stories from my own experience and that of my friends, I decided to stop dealing with them and I explain why publicly in Important Note to Recruiters and Contract Agencies [goingware.com] .

To make it easier for other consultants to not have to deal with recruiters, I wrote Market Yourself - Tips for High-Tech Consultants [goingware.com] .

To directly address the question, though, I think ethics are of the highest importance in the work of a consultant, and are probably the most important guide for you to follow, more important than writing good code. You at least have the hope of debugging bad code.

The question goes both ways though, clients are occassionally unethical and many clients who wouldn't think of screwing you if you were a full-time employee would be happy to short you for weeks of pay earned as a consultant.

You have to protect yourself, start early by finding a good attorney before taking on work - certainly before trouble starts - and have your attorney review all your contracts before you sign them.

Also trust in your feelings and don't do business with someone you feel is not ethical. It's just not worth the heartache.


Michael D. Crawford
GoingWare Inc

It's a classic problem (1)

Starky (236203) | more than 13 years ago | (#458554)

Computer consulting is like any other service in which there are significant informational asymmetries. Other examples would be auto mechanics, lawyers, and building contractors. Each of those fields one could argue are more infamously rife with unscrupulous and unsavory characters.

Among solutions to the problem in these other fields for those who solicit these services are (i) getting a second opinion and (ii) hiring an independent 3rd party with subject knowledge in an oversight capacity.

The reality we live in dictates caveat emptor; that is, it is ultimately up to the consumer of the services to protect themselves against their own lack of knowledge. If I were contracting a computer consultant knowing that there was no in-house expertise to monitor the quality of the work and the contract were for a sufficient amount to justify the expense, it would be worth it to hire a 3rd party to monitor the consultant(s). I also regularly recommend to people trying to build a technical department from scratch to hire someone with field knowledge on an hourly basis to assist in the interview process.

Fortunately for most in the U.S., my experience in the U.S. is that (perhaps due to the legacy of those wacky pilgrims, perhaps due to reputation effects), the average level of ethical behavior does seem to exceed that of other places based on reputation. (Russia and a number of developing economics spring to mind -- I hope I'm not being myopic or unfairly generalizing with that statement.)

Insightful? (1)

janimal (172428) | more than 13 years ago | (#458555)

Misleading is more like it. Ethics are very important.

I know that it's easy sometimes to think that so many people do not behave ethically, but to succumb to this is just helping it along. People usually think before they do something they know is unethical (at least at the beginning), and they'll usually look at their peers to see how they behave. If the peers post messages like the one above, the person on the verge of making an unethical decision will likely think, "oh what the hell, everybody's doing it! If I stay out, I'll be left behind."

This is not what you want. Ethics do matter, and as long as you can set a right example, or make the right comment on an issue, DO IT.. because the idiots listen.

Janimal

Ethics (2)

divert (188449) | more than 13 years ago | (#458556)

Check out the ACM and the IEEE and the AITP these are all professional org. that relate to the computer industry.. they all have a code of ethics.. In fact the ACM and IEEE did a joint code of ethics for Software engieers. I think they are at www.acm.org www.computers.org It's not that we need a code of ethics.. it's that we need more people following the code of ethics that are there..

Re:From an economics standpoint . . . (1)

jgaynor (205453) | more than 13 years ago | (#458557)

And what have you done lately mother theresa? Volunteered as a dickhead on slashdot?

Selecting good suppliers is part of business (2)

ry4an (1568) | more than 13 years ago | (#458558)

Selecting good suppliers is a part of business. Restauranteurs that select unreliable dairy suppliers go out of business. Companys that select bad computer consultants are in a world of hurt too. It doesn't mean that the consultant isn't wrong -- they were wrong to provide bad service, but the person who hired them is also at fault. I've hired some bad auto mechanics in my day and they were wrong to scam me, and I was wrong to retain their services. Now I check with friends more knowledgeable about auto-repair than I before giving money to a mechanic.

Yesterday I spent a few hours at a local not-for-profit group helping them to evaluate a consultant they're considering retaining. The group understood they didn't have the skill set to hire a consultant and they went out side their organization for help in doing so.
--

Bill Gates Biography? (2)

ejbst25 (130707) | more than 13 years ago | (#458559)

You asked for a good ethics book. Well...you can learn from good and bad examples. ;-)

Re:Ethical Consulting Pays (2)

Wolfstar (131012) | more than 13 years ago | (#458560)

There's a distinct difference between charging "Exorbitant" fees and screwing your client over by telling them to purchase something that they don't want or need. Best example is the story (Urban Legend?) of the consultant who got called in to fix some constantly crashing servers. Took him 5 minutes, and he charged a grand to do it. When asked for an itemized bill, it said:

Fix Crashing Servers: $5
Knowing How to Fix Crashing Servers: $995

Supposedly, the company paid. Why? Each crash cost them an hour of productivity. Say it happened three times a week and affected 50 employees being paid $30,000 a year. That comes out to roughly $14.00 an hour each. Multiplied by 3 times a week and 50 users. Total cost per week to keep the problem, $2100.00. What you or I call exorbitant is pocketchange to a company facing a productivity loss on the order of $2100 per week.

This is totally different than, say, someone who needs remote access to all of their locations for routine maintenance and occasional file transfers, yet the consultant - rather than going with Frame Relay or possibly even DSL - tells the company that the only way to handle that is to go via T-3 to each major site, and load-balanced T-1 pairs to the minor ones. Each site's total traffic at peak times won't exceed say 400kbit/sec, but this consultant just sold them on 45Mbit/sec worth of bandwidth. It's unethical, it's wrong, and he's costing the company tens of thousands of dollars each MONTH that they don't need to be paying, just so he can get a bigger check.

It's not the fees that consultants charge, it's those of us who sell someone something that they legitimately do not need and will cost them MUCH more than just the consultant's inflated fee. I call it inflated by the way, because if they're doing such things, it's to get the bigger payout.

Re:What a sorry attitude... (2)

Lakitu (136170) | more than 13 years ago | (#458561)

One question that I don't really know the answer to: Is Russia like that because of that attitude, or did the attitude arise because of Russia's poor economic state?

minimum standard for consulting (1)

Taggert (312642) | more than 13 years ago | (#458562)

In so many fields there are accrediations or associations that are meaningful and provide the consumer or client information to determine quality of the professional. Computer consulting (as well as management consulting) would benefit from such a method. I left a large consulting firm because almost everyone was focused on becoming partner first and serving the client second. I implemented more lame computer systems than I care to ever admit. Establishing minimum standards for project management, gathering specs., defining the scope, customer management, etc. would be great for the field. I enjoy consulting, but I seem to spend so much time during the sales cycle dealing with the consulting stereotype because so many consultants don't do anything or know enough. There is also a need for clients to take responsibility for understanding the proposed solutions. One professor at graduate school told me that almost 90% of technology projects were a waste of resources and never realized their full potential. With such a high percentage, it seems that management also needs to play a more active role in learning, understanding, and managing technology projects.

Re:Cynical about this (2)

tokengeekgrrl (105602) | more than 13 years ago | (#458563)

This is definitely true in the case of government. I used to work in an IT dept for the state of CA and the management that made all the purchasing decisions had no idea how to monitor the develoment process of tech projects. We were a Solaris shop yet consultants pushed NT-based software. When the consultants couldn't produce their deliverables on schedule, they demanded more money to get back on schedule. Management would go along with this - unbelievable.

What was even more frustrating, was that I would tell the management, get rid of these guys and hire some independent contractors who are NOT pimping crappy 3rd party software that we don't need. I can recall 2 specifc projects where it took management a year of battling with the consultant and not getting anything that worked, before they would actually get rid of them.

I will say that there was one vendor who was fantastic and an absolute pleasure to work with: giavaneers [giavaneers.com] , based in Santa Cruz. When one consultant group couldn't deliver and was going to have the project taken away from them for their incompetence (at my insistence), they sub-contracted to giavaneers, who quite literally, saved the day. I highly recommend them.

- tokengeekgrrl
"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions

Re:A good example (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#458564)

How 'bout a web site where people can post anonymously along the lines of "Company A paid consultant B ridiculously large amount of money C to perform simple and/or unnecessary job/service/ D or to give them totally inappropriate and/or inaccurate advice E", with all the specifics inserted.

Maybe call it stupidcompany.com or cluelesscompany.com.

Get some very good lawyers to write the "All opinions belong solely to the posters and dissenting views are welcome" staements, trade it out with them for advertising.

If the company mentioned wants to, they can post "No we didn't pay anywhere near that kind of money for a Linux firewall.", or "Yes, we paid that much but we got X,Y, and Z for it as well.", or the consultants can post rebuttals, and readers can browse with their BS meters carefully calibrated and decide for themselves where the truth lies

If the site catches on, smart companies will go there to find out which consultants to avoid as they would the plague, as well as which companies to avoid joining in any sort of partnership or synergy or whatever they're calling it this week.

Ethics in Business (2)

quonsar (61695) | more than 13 years ago | (#458565)


[voice of Foghorn Leghorn]: "Ethics, I say, ethics? Why, ethics got no place in business, boy!"

Re:the oldest profession.... (1)

m.o (121338) | more than 13 years ago | (#458566)

Big consulting firm --> whorehouse (how true, how true...)

Unethical Consulting (1)

PatJensen (170806) | more than 13 years ago | (#458567)

I am an Enterprise Consultant and have been consulting for local small, large and Fortune 500 businesses since the late 1990s. I think I've seen it all as far as unethical behavior from other firms are concerned. Here in Fresno, CA (south of Silicon Valley) our technical market is starting to bud. We have a few technical schools kicking out unexperienced MCSE's and almost 20 local consulting firms.

I have found that working for both small and large firms alike that most likely the small firms will be the ones that perform unethically. Things such as selling pirated software to a customer, misquoting job installation times and treating and paying their employees poorly are very common here.

I have also seen local companies strike up partnerships with other ISPs, NSPs, repair shops in an effort to steal their customers. During interviews with employees, they have contributed other companies customer lists and pursued customers right after leaving a competitor. Now, you made reference to slimy salesmen as part of your article. Unfortunately you will continue to have to deal with them in larger consulting organizations. It is common for salesmen to sell solutions that have no actual bearing to what the customer wants.

I agree fully in that there should be some type of spoken or written ethics for consultants to follow. Are there any firms that have a set and adhere to them?

-Pat

This has been going on for a long time (1)

vinyl1 (121744) | more than 13 years ago | (#458568)

When I first joined this illustrious profession, in 1979, there was a well-known instance of this kind of thing. At Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NY, a certain consulting company had imbedded itself so deeply that they were practically running the place. Rumor had it that if you applied for a job there, you would be interview by a consultant, who reported to another consultant, etc, etc. The place was infested with them! They billed hundreds of millions of dollars over a few years, and never did manage to finish the Medical/Surgical system they were hired for. Curiously, every programmer and recruiter in the city had heard about what was going on, but BC/BS was unable to free themselves from this deadly embrace. I don't believe the company had to worry about its next contract, they raked in so much money.

I believe there are equivalent companies nowadays, although they might be a little more subtle about it. It is pretty well known that if you invite in the consulting arm of one of the big six accounting firms, you'll be paying millions to be told whatever you want to hear--and whatever you do, don't let them develop any systems.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book for a consulting company to make a system so complex that only they can maintain it. I've heard many stories about consultants, small and large, who kept the source code and charged the customer exorbitant fees for simple fixes. Even if they let you see the code, the usual reaction is to shudder and give it back.

How about the big 5 (or 4....) (3)

gdyanky (205597) | more than 13 years ago | (#458569)

I am a computer consultant for a small firm who regulary partners with the big guys. Often Anderson, Deloitte, E&Y will subcontract to us. Time after time I see these companies bringing people into the project with little and no experience. These companies expect their consultants to learn of the job, while billing several hunderd dollars an hour. To me this is one of the bigger problems in the world of consulting. On top of that it seems like companies use the big 5 merely because of thier size. Why is this? What will it take for company management to realize that bigger is not always better? My experience has shown me that the better consultants go off on their own. Bottom line: Just like politicians the companies that are the most powerful, are usually the most unethical

Re:Ethical Consulting Pays (1)

Caracal (120440) | more than 13 years ago | (#458570)

I get almost all of my new business from referrals. Being honest with my clients pays off directly in the form of new business

Besides, happy clients will utilize my services over and over.


You hit the nail on the head.

The larger consulting firms usually have one thing in mind: to get more and more of their people billable. It's not usually in the [short term] interest of the consulting firm to do a good effective job then get out. Just get the first guys in the door then open up the way for the other guys. Confuse the customer with smoke and mirrors. Blow things way out of proportion by making everything into a dire emergency. Stay on as long as they can, and charge the customer an arm and a leg in the whole process.

This whole phenomenon will pave the way for the smaller consulting firms [and larger firms willing to learn] who have no choice but to work with the customer's interest in mind. Now, with the availability of computer software and hardware today, we're also going to see mid-market really become a battle ground for consulting wherein it will be the ethical consulting firms that win out.

There are a few things a consulting firm can do to really increase long-term revenue and company survivability: a) promote the idea of "Change Management" to help the implementation be better understood and accepted by the customer, b) phase their implementations into easy to swallow modules, and above all c) work with the customer's interests in mind.

Companies across industries are beginning to realize how much customer loyalty plays a part in the long term success of a company. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is becoming more important. Word of mouth and customer retention goes a long way. This is no different in the consulting world.

Now all these consulting firms have to do is just hire the best people and treat them well.

-Caracal

Re:More common than you think... (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#458571)

That type of crap really p*sses me off. I use to work for a consulting company, and I am familar with these situations. I can't tell you how many times I tried to get them to clean up their act. Now I work on my own!

Here's a couple of tips when dealing with consultants:

1. Get the Project Plan in writing and go over it with a fine comb. Make sure its feastive, and do some investigation (i.e. Does this product work as stated? Is this product near End of Life? Scan DejaNews or Google to see if anyone has major complains about using this product.)

2. Ask the Consultant company if they have done this type of work before, and when they say "yes" ask for references. If no ask them why they feel they are qualified to implement this project and ask for references (get atleast two) from recent clients.

3. Make them liable for any downtime or problems (have it included in the proposal). Also include a checklist of project objectives that must be completed and signed by then consultant firm before you pay them. This will provide your business with at least some protection, if they screw up.

4. Ask to meet or phone interview the engineer(s) who will be assigned to this project. As the engineer, specific questions about the project and product that he will be installing. If you don't feel confident with the engineer don't sign. If you feel comfortable with the engineer make sure he will be doing the installation by getting that consultant company to specify the engineer in the proposal. Most Consultant firms use bait and switch tatics, where you discuss the project with a real sharp engineer, but something else shows up to do the install.

5. Add a project completion date and project objectives with dates assigned. You don't want to end having to wait six months for a project to be completed if you need it done in one month!

Give this list to your boss before bringing on the next batch of consultants!

How we sell software (2)

plopez (54068) | more than 13 years ago | (#458572)

Basicaly, if a person sold cars like the way we sell software, they would be in prison. If you sold Real Estate in the same way software is sold, you would also go to prison. Selling software (and associated services) is so much just selling ideas about software. This makes for huge opportunities for fakers, liars, charlatans, con men and unethical people of all sorts.

When it comes to professional standards to work by, I think IEEE has a pretty good set of standards. Even if you are not a member, I think that they provide good guidelines in the area of technology.

my $.02

Re:Computer Consulting in a nutshell (1)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 13 years ago | (#458573)

And if they run Solaris, they've already made the right decision, and there's no need to change?

Bad Consultant or Stupid Consultant? (2)

Adam Knapp (35401) | more than 13 years ago | (#458574)

The difference between a bad consultant and a stupid consultant can be small to none sometimes. Insufficiant knowledge can have the same effect as malicious exploitation. In other professions, change is slow enough that standards about training can be made in a rational manner. There is no such luxury of time in computers.

This, along with a relatively low understanding of computers in the general populace, makes people think that it's a good idea to hire 16 year old neighbor kid to design their network based on the fact that he/she is a "whiz"(knows slightly more that you).

Not only are there no standards for education but even among knowledgeable people there is disagreement over many things. What do you do with a proprietaty system that works for the client? What if the company that supports the system is having financial trouble? At what point do you transfer the client to a new system? What if the choice you have between different systems is a bad choice or writing your own? Is it wrong to move a client to a system that only you know about?

The same as you don't expect contractors to build your house OK without any supervision someone hiring a consultant should not blindly expect that everything will be done perfectly without any of your own interference. Get the consultant to make promisies on paper and give them deadlines. This way you can take legal action if they prove to be incompetent or devious.

Re:IN IT FOR THE MONEY (2)

jonnystiph (192687) | more than 13 years ago | (#458575)

Thats really not a nice way to talk about MicroSoft. They are just trying to get by...

Re:IN IT FOR THE MONEY (1)

cculianu (183926) | more than 13 years ago | (#458576)

hahahahaha That's pretty funny...

Do What is Right or What the Client Wants? (5)

goingware (85213) | more than 13 years ago | (#458577)

A common question I have to deal with in my consulting practice is whether to deliver what the client specifically asks for or what I think is right to deliver.

This touches on matters both of ethics and of engineering judgement.

You say, I should just write it to spec, but in practice I often don't have that detailed of a spec. In my work I write software on contract (rather than install systems or set up networks), usually for software publishers and sometimes for websites.

I frequently do ports or complete rewrites to a new OS, and it is common for my spec to consist of nothing more than a working Windows version of a program and a request to make it work "just like it" on the Mac.

The problem is things are done differently on the Mac than on Windows, both internally in the code we write and what the user expects. I feel it is important to give a client a product that will make their Mac users happy, even when the client is a Windows user/developer, and either doesn't understand the Mac or doesn't agree with it.

A more serious question is when the client is asking for shoddy work. I make it clear to my clients that I do high quality work, and they shouldn't come to me if they want crappy, cheap software. But sometimes that's exactly what they want, in part because they want to cut development costs and also because they believe (I feel mistakenly) that they will reduce their time to market by sacrificing sound engineering principles.

One thing I have started to do is to redesign my website to emphasize my ideals of quality work, as opposed to the spam I get that advertised offshore software development for $25/hour or less. Yes, this likely scares off some potential clients but they're probably the ones that would give me a pain in the backside anyway.

I do try to involve the client in the decisions. The problem is that they are often not technically competent to help me make the judgement, and their arguments make this resoundingly clear. So very often I just go off and do what I think is in my client's best interests even if I know they disagree with it.


Michael D. Crawford
GoingWare Inc

Re:the consumers don't usually matter (1)

mami (209922) | more than 13 years ago | (#458578)

If they're not smart enough to check up on your work, they really do deserve what they get.

Well, that's why I love open source code so much, you know, it saves me time to check up on the consultant's stupid work - they get what they deserve - an open door to leave.

Are you an open source code consultant ? I think you need to learn a thing or two. :-)

I don't get it. (1)

ff (35380) | more than 13 years ago | (#458579)

Why couldn't you rip off companies AND feel proud at the same time? I don't see a conflict of any sort there.
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