In the two previous columns in this ethics in it series, I asked readers to send me the ethical dilemmas with which they have to grapple in their roles as corporate IT managers. This week, we tackle the ethics surrounding theft. No, this isnt about stealing hard drives or bootlegging software; its about filching technical support to which youre not technically entitled.
Q A software vendors technical support analyst refused to give me assistance because my software was not the latest version. I knew that the difference between my version and the latest was only cosmetic, with no bearing on my problem. Begging and pleading proved fruitless. So I hung up, called back, got another analyst and said I was at the current rev. I got the assistance I needed to resolve my crisis. A lie? Yes. But, immoral or unethical?
A Sometimes, to proceed, you have to know the "right" answers to the questions that are likely to be asked—for example, "Have you read the license agreement?" Its hard to condone lying, but I suspect that most readers would do what you did, especially in a crisis situation.
In the most favorable light, you told a small lie that expedited your way to the support you were entitled to and needed. At the other extreme, you stole support services from the vendor. The answer to the question of whether you acted unethically lies in the terms of service you agreed to when you first signed up for support. You may have agreed to support being provided only for the current version, or the vendor may have notified you that support for your version was being discontinued. If so, then you did get service from the vendor to which you werent entitled.
The vendor may be trying to keep costs down by limiting the number of supported versions or may not want analysts spending time on problems that were fixed in an upgrade. Then again, the vendor may simply be trying to increase revenues by encouraging users to buy upgrades. But not liking a vendors policy is no justification for theft of service (I dont like that my server warranty doesnt give weekend service, but that doesnt justify breaking into the vendors warehouse to steal a replacement motherboard in a pinch on Sunday morning).
If, after reading the terms of service, it appears you were in the wrong, you can right the wrong by buying that upgrade. Or call your account rep and offer to pay for a support incident (hell probably say no anyway). And, while youre assuaging your guilt, you may as well do the same for your frustration by sending a note to the vendors vice president in charge of customer support. Explain that the vendors analysts may not be sufficiently knowledgeable about the differences between the various versions of the companys product.