CIOs say a principal part of their role is developing strong partnerships with external suppliers and internal colleagues. But what makes a good relationship and how do you maximise its effectiveness? Mark Samuels reports.
Read the marketing bumf from most technology vendors and you would be forgiven for thinking that just about any technology system is a potential cure-all for the business's ills.
Words such as 'solution' are allied to terms like 'leverage' to suggest a meaningful - but actually, meaningless - route to IT-enabled operations. If only IT could deliver everything that supplier's promise. In most cases, it simply cannot.
"The industry's not as bad as it was but there's still an issue of over-promising," says Neil Pamment, a technology veteran and IT director at legal firm Denton Wilde Sapte. With previous experience of working with vendors across various sectors, including manufacturing and healthcare, Pamment says over-zealous marketing assertions can create issues for CIOs.
"Such promises mean line-of-business people then think IT is capable of absolutely everything," he says. "But IT is a business tool that must be used according to need and specification." So, how does a CIO go about meeting those requirements?
Trusted account managers
Technology chiefs from various sectors suggest it is crucial that IT leaders develop partnerships with external suppliers and internal colleagues. In short, working with trusted account managers is the best way for CIOs to create deals that work for the business.
Take Mark Foulsham, who is head of IT at insurance specialist esure and also responsible for procurement in the business. In the case of esure's heavily technology-oriented operations, the firm gains advantages through economies of scale.
"The challenge in procurement is to ensure both a broad awareness of potential support requirements at an early stage, plus targeted and detailed involvement as discussions advance," he says.
"The business doesn't want to be stymied early by paperwork and unnecessary governance but equally the risks in confidentiality and commercial sensitivity need to be taken into account. So a careful, professional balance is required," says Foulsham. And this is where his procurement team comes in.
Engaging the business
Foulsham, who also works in a consultancy role with the IT director at GoCompare.com, has tried hard to ensure transformational IT projects engage the business. His procurement team ensures business demands are met and vendors managed.
"We provide an advisory service across areas such as value for money, licensing and benchmarking. I have a small team that act as my account managers and they have responsibility for commercial contracts, terms and conditions."
"It's all about good vendor management practice and I make sure the business can make a choice. And that's all about early engagement and understanding what the business wants. We don't want to be seen as coming in and advising too far down the procurement pipeline."
The key at all levels is the development of an effective working relationship, agrees David Felstead, CIO at the Forestry Commission, who awarded a...
Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.