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IT purchasing: Who decides what tech to buy?

Mary K. Pratt | Oct. 3, 2013
When it comes to hardware, software and services, IT always knows best. Or maybe not, says a new breed of procurement specialists.

Procurement partnering isn't about IT blindly handing over responsibilities or gleefully dumping a mountain of routine paperwork on the desks of highly skilled sourcing staffers. Both sides bring specific skills that complement the other, and both sides need to learn about each other's roles.

It doesn't much matter where IT purchasing decisions ultimately reside — the CIO, the CFO or the COO — as long as that collaboration and teamwork are in place, says Jim Jones, a managing director in KPMG's CIO Advisory service network. "The model we've seen not work well is where IT tries to procure without procurement skills or procurement tries to procure without IT skills."

Know the industry, know the vendors
UC Riverside's Lee is onboard with that assessment. "The new purchasing pros had better know not only the hardware and software that their organizations might be using, but also how to explain the terms and conditions of a contract in plain English to IT and then analyzing the end result for them," says Lee. "At the same time, they have to know the industry. Who are the players and what are they doing? What is going to affect the delivery of my order?"

Lee sees vendor management as a key aspect of the job. "It's about having and keeping the right vendors for the job in your pocket who will respond to your needs," he says. "Do they have the connections to get the hard-to-get items when you need them? Do you have to worry about their pricing, or can you trust them to treat you fairly every time?"

Lee, a veteran purchasing professional who oversees two subordinates, serves the entire UC Riverside campus, including its Computing & Communications Department. Some managers in the field have limited buying authority and can purchase PCs, printers and similar items, although his group provides them with policy, procedure and guidance on those purchases.

Lee works with senior IT managers who report up to the CIO. Recently, a group worked together to purchase a point-of-sale system to support the campus's dining and retail operations. IT asked for direct support for this acquisition, opting to use a formal bid process rather than a sole-source request that was first considered, Lee explains.

By working together and going with the bid process, Lee says, the campus not only ended up with the supplier that IT had originally wanted, but also scored $89,000 in cost reductions and tighter network security measures.

Partnering on the big purchases
Hank Zupnick, CIO at GE Capital Real Estate in Norwalk, Conn., and an active member of the Society for Information Management (SIM), works with his company's sourcing division to make IT purchases, typically relying on the four sourcing staffers who are dedicated to IT, which comprises some 300 staffers and contractors.


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