Offering an Informed Opinion
Your role may require you to answer technical questions from a client
or a colleague in which your opinion is the crux of the answer. Attor-
neys have to do this all the time. A client calls up and asks if estab-
lishing a self-directed trust will protect her assets from probate and
preserve the value of her estate for her children. Accountants also
have to write letters expressing their opinions. This is the heart of an
144 The Language of Success
to create such products. Thus, neither a university research lab nor a
consulting firm that does not otherwise market products is likely to
produce a true COTS product. In fact, to have their products meet the
first criterion of a COTS products, such organizations would need to
partner with a firm that has a core competency in bringing products
to market.
Second, a COTS product is one that has been purchased, installed,
and used by other customers. The COTS product may include a claim
of specific intellectual property rights, and the organization offering
it will usually have a clearly defined program of support and main-
tenance. In the cases of software applications and technical equip-
ment, the COTS products will also have issues of connectivity and
integration already worked out.
In my opinion, because most of our product families are well recog-
nized and in some cases are market leaders, we will not encounter
any resistance to meeting the definition of a COTS product. However,
for new products, particularly those that incorporate significant inno-
vation, we should include content in our proposals and marketing
literature that emphasizes the four criteria. In some cases, purchasing
agents may reject the truly new product, even when that product is
obviously superior, on the grounds that because it is new it doesn’t
meet the definition of a COTS product. This attitude is particularly
common within the federal government where buying behavior tends
to be risk averse. However, by focusing on the characteristics of ori-
gin, market acceptance (for related products or for our company’s
products as a whole), intellectual property, and sustainability, we can
make a very good case that even a product that is being offered for the
first time and that is based on a totally new paradigm can be classi-
fied as a COTS product.
audit report. Usually, what’s important in an audit is not the actual
numbers, but whether those numbers and the financial controls in
place at the firm being audited pose any kind of concern. Physicians,
financial advisors, architects, engineers, consultants—all of these pro-
fessions, which involve mastery of a complex body of knowledge,
will frequently require people to offer informed opinions.
Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires auditors (and sen-
ior management) to report on whether a company has established ad-
equate internal controls over its financial reporting. This is an instance
in which failing to offer an expert opinion could lead to civil and crim-
inal prosecution! For most of us, the stakes won’t be that high, but we
still need to use the structural pattern for effective evaluation so that
our opinions will be clear, convincing, and easy to understand.
Here’s an example in traditional letter format from a CPA. Be-
sides using the basic format for an evaluation, I have also eliminated
some of the typical jargon used by accountants in their reports. If
you’re an accountant, you might wince at what I’ve done here, be-
cause some of that language protects you legally from being held li-
able for your opinions. The problem with it, from the perspective of
your clients, is that the same language that’s protecting you is also
clouding the meaning of your opinions. Because we’re paying for
your opinion, most of us think we have the right to actually under-
stand it. That said, don’t use this letter as a model until you talk with
your senior partners and/or legal counsel. In other words, have
them write an evaluation of it!
Chapter 4 The Practice 145
Mr. Marco Trezzini
Chief Executive Officer
Advanced Electric Manufacturing
Phoenix, Arizona
Dear Mr. Trezzini:
We have completed our audit of the financial statements of Advanced
Electric Manufacturing for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2007,
in accordance with auditing standards generally accepted in the
United States of America. We examined the Company’s internal con-
trol over financial reporting as an element of our auditing process so

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