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From IT vendor management to strategic partnerships

Brendan McGowan | June 2, 2016
According to the 2016 Strategic Partner Index Survey (produced by the CIO Executive Council and IDC), IT buyers and vendors need to forge relationships of trust and collaboration. Failure to partner puts both groups in peril.

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Three-quarters (75 percent) of IT leaders use outside advisors in some fashion during vendor selection (see Figure 11). Perhaps unsurprisingly, most (51 percent) use them only occasionally as a sounding board. Ultimately, as the SPI demonstrates, the most credible sources when it comes to vendor value are buyers themselves.

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Essential guidance: hallmarks of a successful strategic partnership

Get the basics right first. Being responsive and providing stable solutions and services are still table stakes, as demonstrated by the high response rates for the SPI’s responsiveness category. Businesses need to keep the lights on and IT leaders are ultimately responsible for business continuity — for IT leaders, external IT failures are effectively the same as their own.

IT buyers need to identify, understand, and remove obstacles that limit vendors' responsiveness and stability. While three-quarters (76 percent) of IT leaders feel that their most strategic partner is comfortable with tough conversations, more commoditized vendors may not be as confident about initiating dialogue. An incommunicative vendor therefore runs the risk of damaging the reputations of sales and delivery teams, and by extension the relationship itself. At the same time, buyers must be strategic customers, and not shy from having these candid discussions with vendors' senior management teams to eliminate as many roadblocks as possible.

Communication is a two-way street. Communication between IT leaders and even their most strategic partners is still largely one-sided. According to the SPI, only 46 percent of IT leaders state that their most strategic partner regularly demonstrates roadmap alignment. Feedback from the CEC/IDC research advisory board further substantiates the fact that, in many cases, unidirectional communication from the buyer about wants and needs is the norm. And this represents a missed opportunity for IT leaders: By not spending time connecting with their vendors (and not just reviewing what their vendors’ Web sites say), IT leaders miss out on the chance to influence long-term product/services roadmaps.

At the same time, vendors need to make more of an effort to talk with strategic clients about their long-term strategies through regular roadmap sessions. It is imperative that vendors and buyers alike do their homework prior to these sessions and put enough structure around them; otherwise, these critical meetings will either turn into an upselling session or devolve to a requirement-gathering technical discussion.

Be process- and metrics-driven. Business decisions are more data- and metrics-driven than ever before. Value for money needs to be quantified. Buyers need to focus not only on "hard" metrics (traditional KPIs based upon technical execution) but also measure the "soft" side of the relationship as well. “Soft” KPIs are often more subjective and harder to define — and, as a result, demand extra effort to track. Some larger and more process-driven buyers are already tackling this, but in many cases this is left to perception and intuition.


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