IT Employment

Vendors bypassing the CIO: Six ways to stop it

When a vendor goes straight to the end user with the sales process, it puts IT in a bad position. Here's how the CIO can stop this behavior.

I'm convinced that vendors hate it when IT becomes involved in the sales process, particularly in organizations that do not have strong IT governance or software/service acquisition policies in place. By going straight to the end user, the vendor is more likely o sell the product on that product's merits alone without having to go through a pesky check of requirements or integration possibilities.

This sometimes results in a software purchase being made and IT being to "just make it work."  It's a bad position for the CIO. It's a bad position for the company. And, ultimately, it's a bad position for the department that actually buys the software. They're left with a system that may or may not integrate into existing processes, that may not be able to be adequately supported by the IT department and that may result in establishing a "data island" that confuses or disrupts decision making.

How can you - the CIO - stop this behavior?

It all depends on what kind of organization you work for and what your goal is. If your goal is a strict command and control - you're the gatekeeper and there's no two ways about it - you're probably fighting a losing battle. The goal is not to simply say no. The goal should be to ensure that solutions that are ultimately implemented in the organization are properly evaluated to make sure that they meet the needs and overall requirements of the organization. These requirements may include provisions that require all service to meet certain specific data integration standards.

Be transparent. The more transparent you are in your work, the more that people will trust you to do the right thing and for collaboration. Now, if a vendor calls, it's more likely that you'll be pulled into the discussion at the beginning rather than having a blow up at the end. Be approachable. If you're not approachable, people will work hard to go around you. After all, the path of least resistance is human nature. If people don't feel comfortable working with you, they'll just work with the vendor and find ways to "beat the system" rather than working with you. Forge strong relationships. The better the relationship that you have with your executive peers, the less likely it is that sneaky stuff will take place that affects your success. People will see you as a trusted colleague and bring you into conversations sooner, heading off what could be a nasty surprise down the line. Work with finance. Eventually, everything costs money. Create a policy and process that requires finance to verify that IT has been involved before officially committing funds to a software or service purchase. If IT hasn't been involved, payments are stopped. Be proactive. Work with individual units to determine needs and, together, identify solutions that can meet those needs. The unit will determine whether or not a solution is viable and the CIO will determine whether or not a solution can be grafted into the existing architecture. Take the hard line. I include this here for completeness, but consider it the "nuclear option" since it can have long-lasting consequences and may not be good for your reputation. Make it known that vendors that simply refuse to engage the CIO are blacklisted. Inside the organization, make it known that services acquired without input from the CIO will be ignored, even if they're already paid for. The downside here is that a good solution might be thrown out or ignored.

Let your reputation precede you

As I mentioned, I'm not a huge advocate of taking the hard line unless it becomes absolutely necessary. I'd much rather see an organization in which the CIO's reputation precedes him and he's seen as a collaborative, resourceful partner in business that is respected enough for business units to make sure that IT is involved in new initiatives from the beginning. Regardless, make sure everyone understands just how important it is for the CIO to be involved in services acquisition in order to retain order whenever possible.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

12 comments
dckane
dckane

I'm an internal IT service provider. Making business units engage IT in a software purchase decision is counter-productive, in that it makes the BU feel that they need IT's permission. No one wants to be subordinate to another BU, especially one that is likely perceived as a business support service. Software vendors will continue to engage the BU, that is simply fact. Odipides makes that point above, and it makes a lot of sense. Even if your business has a great IT department that works flawlessly with the rest of the business, outside vendors will still assume IT is an obstacle to be avoided or neutralized -- until we prove otherwise. This is a huge struggle for many IT departments. It wasn't long ago that our main task was that of technology gatekeeper -- keep technology standardized, cheap, and secure. That formally defined role hasn't yet changed for many IT departments, even though the BUs expect something very different. So strategically we are still tasked with ensuring cost-effective, secure technology, while transactionally we are expected to go with the flow or get out of the way. The only way out of this is to create an environment where the other BUs WANT to engage IT in their decisions. IT should be the valued consultant, the financial planner of technology investments. That's what I like about most of the article's suggestions. I would replace "Take the hard line" with "Tell the kind truth." It's a subtle, but very important, distinction. We can't do that with credibility until we've established that everything we do (and I mean everything, hence the transparency) is done with the BUs' best interests in mind. We can't just tell them that. We need to show it, repeatedly and consistently.

robinfgoldsmith
robinfgoldsmith

A major reason vendors bypass CIOs is that the business area sees the situation as their business need, not an IT activity. IT???s dilemma starts with the business areas not seeing CIO/IT as necessary, let alone actually helpful, for meeting their business needs???probably because the CIO/IT really has not been especially helpful. It is not just a matter of propellerheads. Many CIOs look like and sincerely think they _are_ doing all the right things and _are_ in sync with the business areas when in fact the business sees it differently. The advocated strong governance easily can exacerbate the differences by creating mindless administrivia and posturing that deepen the divide. Being bypassed will not turn around until CIOs/IT genuinely learn first to understand and appreciate the business in order to discover their REAL business requirements, and then find automated and other ways to help the business areas succeed.

Odipides
Odipides

Speaking as a vendor, I often find the IT department's involvement is actually destructive. I'm a developer so I'm sensitive to the needs of internal policies, standards etc. However, all too often IT division involvement often turns a clear-cut purchase decision into a bizarre dance through a minefield of nebulous, partially formulated, internal initiatives, ego's and procrastination. I'm all for fitting in with standards; the problem is that, in my experience, those standards are poorly [defined, understood, implemented] and, in some cases, have no bearing on the purchase at hand anyway. Another impediment to providing business solutions is when the IT department tries to get involved in things outside its actual ambit in order to justify its own existence. This seems most common during contract negotiations where IT representatives insist on contractual clauses which are impossible to police and/or deliver on. For example, requiring 100% uptime on a system; it can't be done. One might get close, but 100% uptime is impossible to promise! In a perfect world, the involvement of a good IT team would be a benefit to all sales. Unfortunately, the world is far from perfect.

Colinza
Colinza

The best way to deal with this matter is to adopt the ITIL v3 guidelines on vendor management. This specifically addresses the points you raised of introducing products and services governed by IT strategy and policy; financial control and correct integration with other service management processes and aligning with future and present IT technologies.

infoblox
infoblox

I enjoyed reading your comments but unfortunately I do not see anything new. CIOs have always tried do our best at the 6 topics you mentioned but something has fundamentally changed and the CIOs has to go through a significant transformation; what CIOs have been doing up to now is not good enough moving forward. How about recommending that the CIOs admit to the loss of control; that they cannot keep on dictating what is good for the users. That would be a significant change!! Or how about becoming a true business partner and not hiding behind technology. These are the things CIOs have to discuss.

ed
ed

When the IT department has the reputation of keeping people from doing useful things, the IT department is the problem. My wife's employer hired somebody with a certificate. Think of Mordac, the Preventer of Information Services in the Dilbert strips. His major accomplishments include blocking Facebook, eBay, Yahoo IM and email... It would be nicer if he also kept the network working efficiently. When my wife complained that her computer took forever to log on the network, he told her to defrag her hard drive. I've been very fortunate to have worked in situations that were successful. When I needed to use some software unique within the institution, I was told--more of an "I don't have the knowledge to help" than a warning--that I would have to provide my own support. Later on, I asked for a netbook, which would also be unique and unsupported. After the money was approved, I went in to check with the IT folks and the words were, "We don't support your software. Why should we worry about this?" And now I've retired and my wife expects me to support--and use--the washer and dryer, as well as her computer, while she's at work. Guess it pays to be versatile.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

0. Provide the end user with what they want and need. All too often the solution is what is best for the CIO and I.T.; not what is best for the end user, department, or the company. Far too many times somebody in I.T. gets their nose out of joint after spending a couple weeks evaluating and selecting software application solutions, only to have the end user ask them if they considered product Y. (Which they didn't, and actually works and integrates somewhat better than I.T.'s solution.) I know, because I've been guilty of that behavior in the past.

ananthap
ananthap

2 clear streams of IT. (1) Regular data processing and (2) Design and drafting departments. The workstation and software needs are totally different but basic IT processes (like mock run of server failure, annual maintenance follow up, unauthorised loading and use of software etc) were not followed by the other team. Eventually management decided that all purchases went through IT and we also made it difficult for support of workstations not in our inventory. Also we made it a point to tell the users that they when they budget for a new workstation, they should budget for OS, office, and other software. (we have a negotiated rate with the biggies). This solved the basic problem. Eventually everyone except a few diehards came round and now it's all OK.

IT
IT

If a CIO is not positioned well in an enterprise, then this enterprise does not function well in the application of information technology. The solutions without CIO's approve will hurt this enterprise in the end. If everyone understand this then CIO can be good help to this enterprise.

JimTheGeordie
JimTheGeordie

This excellent advice should be read by all IT personnel who need to interact with their management and their user community. I was an independent contractor who was engaged on contract by a large telco as DBA/developer for one of their systems. It turned out that my predecessor had been a real propellorhead nerd who despised his users and morale was very low. I was determined not to be like him and I took a great deal of trouble to engage with everybody on the team. This paid off in spades, as my contract was renewed several times and in all, I spent almost 10 years in the position. When I finally left, my farewell party was attended by many former users and management personnel who, in some cases, I had not seen for years.

santeld
santeld

Scott, CIO, or IT, avoidance is real and more common because of what has been described as consumerization of IT. End users are becoming more focused on IT as a service, with that comes device agnosticism. They want IT service delivered on any device at any time, regardless of IT strictures. The six ways described by your article is spot on. Too many IT organizations act in a dictatorship manner, regardless of what end users need or want. This is done for security, governance, and support reasons. All are valid reasons to protect assets, intellectual property, and meet governance requirements. What is often missing is what you describe, a relationship between an IT organization and end users. Having spent a time in an ITIL certification program, open communication during the planning and design as well as the implementation and operation phases go a long way. Business, end user and IT requirements are met. This makes for a win-win-win scenario. This scenario is simplistic and attainable however many businesses suffer from the very things discussed by your article.