An edited version of this column appeared in Business Week on April 2, 2009
Rats! It seems like this recession thing’s turning around. The market’s been rising. Houses are beginning to sell. Durable orders are up. Banks are de-toxifying. Bernie Madoff and Jim Cramer have (finally) been publicly humiliated. I think we’re starting to come out of the economic downturn.
And that’s what kind of bums me out. I’m going to miss this recession.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to miss the frozen credit markets. Or that sick feeling I get before opening my 401K statement. I’m not going to miss news anchors and talk show hosts screaming “catastrophe!” and “meltdown!” every time I turn on the TV. And I’m definitely not going to miss those knee-jerk mass layoffs conducted by profitable companies just so they can appease their shareholders and maintain their profits (Microsoft made $4 billion last quarter and they’re laying people off?).
But, as a business owner who buys and sells technology, the end of the recession means the end of some pretty good times for me.
For example, those of us that have a few bucks left in the bank have been picking up bargains galore. We’ve been buying ocean front properties in Florida for a song. We’re showering in $2/gallon gas. We’re buying chocolate croissants in Paris with our stronger dollar. And we’re loving the prices of new computers, servers and other hardware, which have never been lower. The slowdown in worldwide demand for everything has depressed the levels of raw materials, which has kept costs down. The rise in unsold inventories has created some great bargains. The truckloads of liquidated equipment chugging their way out of Wall Street has driven down costs for the survivors. Thanks Bear Stearns!
Because of this “great recession”, my negotiating power has exponentially increased. So yes, it has been great. When I need to buy a new server I shamelessly press for discounts. Before, when times were better, sellers would laugh in my face. But times have changed. Instead of pleading poverty, I can also blame the economy. It’s the perfect excuse. Hardware salesmen make sympathetic clucking sounds and whip out their erasers. Software reps, never known to show much spine, just cave in. Which brings me to the next great thing about this great recession.
Software companies have been bowing to me like I’m Xerxes. And to my clients too. No one, and I mean no one I know is purchasing big ticket software at list price. They ask for a discount and they immediately get it. Then they ask for a bigger discount…and a lot of times they get that too! With capital budgets cut to the core, software vendors are now offering month end deals to complement their quarter end deals which of course rolls up to their year end deals. And maintenance? That venerable, non-negotiated annual pound of flesh extracted in return for bug fixes and basic support is now up for discussion too. Everything’s on the table, and the buyers of technology who know a good thing when they see it have been snapping up deals left and right.
Like I said…good times, good times.
Here’s another thing I’ll miss. The recession has finally, finally rid the world of crappy tech companies and crappy technology. Circuit City, the world’s worst place to buy just about anything is finally out of business, along with their incompetent people. Thank you Charles Darwin. Let’s hope Best Buy learns from their demise. Palm Corporation has been hemorrhaging cash and banking everything on their soon-to-be-released Palm Pre. Am I the only one hearing the funeral march playing? Stupid technology companies with stupid ideas finally got what they deserve. Like Comeks (www.comeks.com), who’s product consists of a way to generate funny cartoons on your phone to post to social media sites. Do people really need such nonsense? Apparently not, says the Recession Gods. Phew.
Frugal business owners are now rock stars. Simplicity wins in these tough times. The guys running the oldest version of Windows are no longer ridiculed. The guys trying out competing, cheaper operating systems like Linux are now taken more seriously. The less complicated the better. Week long conferences are now one-day seminars. Dozens of servers are being virtualized down to a box or two. One day seminars are now one hour webinars. Blogs are now becoming tweats. All because of this great, game-changing recession. Thank you AIG!
As a business owner, I’m now getting services from my IT firm that I never dreamed of once receiving. For example, when I call them they…answer the phone. When there’s a problem they…come onsite right away. I don’t get an attitude when I turn down their recommendation to purchase that overpriced server which can store the Library of Congress. Instead I get grateful nods when I hire them for a day to clean up our file system. I get hugs and kisses when, instead of upsizing, I hire them to downsize to a virtual environment. Don’t even ask what they do to me when I actually order a new piece of hardware. This is a family website.
And I’ve noticed something else going on. We’re seeing better quality for the money. My cleaning service seems like they’re trying harder in fear of losing their contract. My employees are working harder for fear of losing their jobs. My customer service rep at Dell seems sharper…and speaks English too! And my IT firm? They’re also picking it up and doing better work! Has the recession made them smarter? No. It’s just eliminated a lot of the useless morons that they previously employed during the busy times. Once things got tough, and the fat was trimmed, the guys remaining are the guys who always knew what they were doing in the first place but were just too “busy” to spend their time with the likes of me. My checks don’t bounce, so I guess that means I’m not such a dufus after all, huh guys?
The recession, thank God, has finally put a lot of those stupid IT trends on the backburner. At least for now. For example, when times are tough, no one wants to think about saving the environment. They’re more concerned about saving their butts. I’m happy to confirm that I’m hearing much less about getting “green” technology and investing more to reduce my “carbon footprint.” The only green that’s important right now is what’s left in my bank account.
Finally, and most importantly, this recession has focused all of our technology purchases on ROI. Which is what it should have been in the first place. The conversation is no longer about upgrading stuff. It’s now about how I can better use the stuff that I already own. In good times, when things were flush, software vendors would try to sell us on features that we knew we would never use. I don’t care if my invoicing program can speak back to me in Mandarin. I don’t need that analysis tool that tells me how many paperclips I purchased last week. Thank God we’re seeing stupid buzzwords like “viral” and “mashup” replaced by “economical” and “productive.” No it’s not cool. God, ROI can be so boring! Even those chirpy guys in the Apple store are looking like they could use an extra Red Bull or two.
Sadly, all of this is changing. The darn economy’s improving. Rats! Technology companies are going to start hiring more eager-beaver employees. “Cool” technology will be the rage again. ROI will lose its appeal. New buzzwords will soon appear. More stupid dotcoms will be vying for our attention. People have short memories. Like those visiting relatives, no one really likes a recession. But a few of us are going to miss it!