CIOs are being left in the dark by technology suppliers who are vague on roadmaps and unwilling to build proper business relationships.
Uncertainty about product roadmaps means businesses can spend money on customisation, only for their original supplier to provide the same functionality with the next product update - potentially losing enterprises both time and money due to vendors' poor communication.
When asked, "Are your IT suppliers doing enough to keep you informed about developments to their product roadmap?" members of the silicon.com CIO Jury were almost unanimous in their response - that vendors need to be much more open about their future technology plans.
Florentin Albu, ICT manager at Eumetsat, said that while some vendors are open about their roadmap, quite a few major suppliers remain "very vague" about their future plans.
"This happened quite a few times now, particularly when suppliers acquire competitors with relatively similar products. Having experienced this situation a number of times, if the strategy is not communicated or too vague, I am assuming the worst case for the customer in my planning," Albu said.
Neil McGowan, CIO at JD Williams, has also often found suppliers' roadmaps to be unclear. "Being able to share a product roadmap is a key component of a supplier's sales pitch. However, most suppliers' roadmaps are theoretical industry trend aspirations or very tactical improvements. I see very little that is visionary and can release significant business value."
And even if suppliers do manage to deliver the information, it can still be poorly directed, as Mike Roberts, IT director at The London Clinic highlighted: "The information is often pitched at the wrong level."
Roberts said suppliers either try to take a very high-level approach and advocate saving money by spending more - or take the other approach by appealing to the technical team with a "shiny shiny" approach and this switches off the business.
"What I need is a supplier that knows my business and where the three- to five-year plan is going and can demonstrate that their product roadmap will help. They also need to be prepared to put 'skin in the game' if they are offering savings," he said.
As well as being light on detail or wrongly directed when it comes to product roadmaps, many suppliers seem to be very bad at building proper relationships with their customers.
"Suppliers' account management and development roadmap remain a weakness, with most suppliers still concentrating on the direct sell rather than the relationship sell," Peter Birley, director of IT and business operations at Browne Jacobson, said.
Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director at Hachette Filipacchi, echoed the call for better relationship building: "We get very little information from suppliers about their future plans. Partially I wonder if this is because we are a relatively small organisation in the UK, and therefore not worth investing much time with. But I also think companies simply do not work hard enough at account-managing their existing clients.
"My phone rings off its hook with cold calls from people we do not use and most likely do not want to. I rarely hear from the people we spend thousands and hundreds of thousands with, who just interact with us at an order-taking transactional level. In many cases the skills of vendor's new business sales teams far outstrip what the actual product delivery people are capable of."
Bellenberg added: "Recently I had a visit from an existing supplier's account manager, who could not have done more damage to his company's reputation if he tried; by not being able to explain the product that the meeting was set up to discuss. I ended up drawing up on some scrap paper the content of the slides that he should have given me to show how it worked."
Bellenberg added that the failures of vendors make it vital for CIOs to network with one another as much as possible.
According to Graham Benson, IT director at M and M Direct, forums such as user groups that allow suppliers and customers to work together to ensure strategic product development roadmaps are aligned to future customer requirements "seem to be on the wane", warning that such groups are essential "especially during times of fiscal prudence".
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Steve Ranger has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.