Over the last few weeks, we have seen unprecedented offers from IT companies/service providers to assist firms in transitioning from traditional working to remote working. 

These range from free trials, free service for a few weeks or months, to special offers. It rather reminded me of the old 1990s joke about IT companies being the new drug dealers. 

Drug dealers  IT companies
Refer to their clients as “Users” Refer to their clients as “Users”
“The first one’s free!” “Download a free trial version…”
Have important South-East Asian connections
(to help move the stuff).
Have important South-East Asian connections
(to help write/test the stuff).
Strange jargon:
“Stick,” “Rock,”
“Dime bag,” “E”.
Strange jargon:
“Java,” “ISDN”.
Realise that there’s tons of cash in the 14- to 25-year-old market. Realise that there’s tons of cash in the 14- to 25-year-old market.
Job is assisted by the industry’s producing newer, more potent mixes Job is assisted by the industry’s producing newer, more potent machines
Often associated with pimps and hustlers. Often associated with marketing people and venture capitalists.
Their product causes unhealthy addictions. DOOM. Quake. SimCity. Duke Nukem 3D. ‘Nuff said!
Do your job well, and you can sleep with sexy movie stars who depend on you. Damn! Damn! DAMN!!!

The free trial has been a tried and tested approach for software for years. I remember buying a magazine in the early 1990s to get a trial version of the latest version of MS Office, as it was the first one to have the mail client (which became known as Outlook) on it.  

The use of free trials in the corporate context has never really taken off, especially in the enterprise space, but we are now seeing ‘free’ or ‘reduced cost’ gambits being deployed for all sorts of services.

There is no such thing as a free lunch in business, so how genuine are these offers of support and what should you watch out for?

  • Undertake due diligence on the supplier and service just as you would with any other supplier you bring on board. If they are an existing supplier, have they delivered on previous promises?
  • What is the scope of service provided in the free/reduced cost service?  
  • What is the scope of service provided after the free/reduced cost service?  
  • Do these meet your need? 
  • What is the cost of the service after the free period ends? 
  • What would the ownership model look like over 12 months / 24 months? 
  • Is the new service GDPR compliant – do we know where data is stored and how it is managed? 
  • How will the system interact with existing systems? 
  • How much internal resource will be required to make the trial worthwhile? 
  • Anything new, no matter how small, means business change. Is the firm ready to implement more change in the midst of the current situation? 
  • Can you effectively deliver training for new working practices? 
  • What is the exit plan if it doesn’t work? 

Read the small print very carefully 

  • Is the free/reduced cost period a precursor to a longer commitment?  
  • Are there any cancellation policies if you do not extend after the free period? 
  • Are there any penalties/hidden costs for overuse, or additional charges for data storage/deletion/support services?
  • Is it a “BT TV” style arrangement whereby taking the free service means other services with the same supplier are automatically extended? 

Adoption of technology under a ‘free’ or ‘reduced cost’ agreement is very attractive to firms and indeed it is a great way to assess the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions. For example, thousands rushed to use Zoom but data concerns (with 500,000 Zoom accounts sold on hacker forums, the dark web) are causing some to question that. 

We would encourage firms to consider each offer thoroughly and maintain a ‘Buyer-Beware’ approach.