IT solicits services and products from vendors — but there are other ways your vendors can help you, giving you added benefits from the relationship. What are these areas, and how do they help you with IT strategies, operations, and costs? Here are a few ideas to consider.
1: Input on new technologies and trends
Every corporate IT department is asked for a strategic plan and a technology roadmap that fits the needs of the business, but few have the luxury of dedicated R&D functions within IT to research technologies and trends for the business. Your key vendors do this, though, so they can stay competitive in their markets. It's not too much to ask a vendor to sit down with you for a review of new technologies that could help your business. Most are happy to do it, as it also positions them to sell you solutions that deliver these technologies.
2: Best practices for IT
Recently, an IT manager told me about the tendency for users (and IT) to blame tools instead of system (or staff!) shortcomings when it comes to problem resolution. This is why many vendors publish best practices for their solutions that, if followed, enable IT to get the most out of the solutions it buys. IT departments that spend the time to familiarize themselves with vendor best practices when they install a new tool or application are further ahead than those who just file the best practices documentation away and never read it.
Larger vendors team with or have their own leasing companies when it's necessary to find creative financing for IT solutions. Many vendors also offer buy-back or trade-in plans so you can keep your technology updated. When you lease, you don't have to own and depreciate hardware and software assets, and you can maintain the lease as an operational expense. Leasing is one way organizations can spread their IT costs over time without having to depreciate them, enabling them to afford new technologies.
4: Other industry expertise
While vendors understand that their relationships with clients are confidential, they are still in a position to offer advice that is targeted to specific industries based upon what they encounter in the field. Sometimes, they can even refer you to someone who had an IT challenge similar to the one you are facing and then link the two of you up so you can exchange ideas. Many IT groups have solved difficult problems this way — and their vendors facilitated the communications that made it happen.
5: Trade shows, conferences, and user councils
The larger IT vendors sponsor trade shows and conferences and have user councils that advise the vendors on what clients would like to see next in products and services. IT departments that play an active role in these activities develop great networks of contacts with whom they can exchange ideas and best practices on common technologies and solutions they all work with. Those who opt to participate in the user councils gain even more, because they can influence vendor product direction in ways that favor their own businesses.
When a large retailer wanted to establish a distant disaster recovery data site, it decided to outsource to one of its primary IT vendors. The vendor already had an established data site capable of running all the retailer's systems and applications, along with qualified personnel who could run the data center. This saved the expense of potentially building or leasing another data center — and staffing it with employees at a location that was half a world away.
7: Project execution
Certain projects (system or application migrations) are necessary for the business to move forward. But they offer little value to business stakeholders who just see a lot of IT resources going into an effort to move one application/ system from one machine to another so it can do the same thing. Many vendors offer this migration service. If your application or system code and interfaces aren't too customized for an outside provider to deal with, outsourcing a migration (with close IT supervision and coordination, of course) can be a viable option that enables IT to keep "working on work."
8: Performance tuning and optimization
Along with best practices, most vendors have service teams and consultants who can assist with performance tuning and optimization of their solutions. IT can often negotiate for discounts or even free provision of these services as a condition of entering into a contract for a solution with a vendor.
9: Industry studies
As part of their ongoing market assessments, vendors regularly perform or commission studies of the market — and of what companies as a whole and in specific industry sectors are doing with their technology. These studies serve as indices of what's going on for IT decision makers and can help them in presenting new budget initiatives to scrutinizing CFOs.
10: ROI and TCO development
You know that a certain technology choice will help to address a business problem, but it's difficult to show the benefits in dollars and cents until you actually have the solution installed and running. This is a quagmire all IT decision makers find themselves in at some point when seeking budget approval. Vendors can help the situation because most have already developed ROI (return on investment) and TCO (total cost of ownership) figures that justify investing in their solutions. These formulas can be biased toward the vendors' own solutions. But they can often be adapted to a situation in your own company and used as a supporting tool to show the CFO where the payoff is.
What have IT vendors done for your organization? Have you been able to reap some of the benefits described here? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.