Procurement: CIOs' secrets to better supplier relations and smarter deals

IT chiefs on what they look for in relationships with external partners...

...five-year contract to Fujitsu to maintain the organisation's IT hardware across England, Scotland and Wales in May. He believes a good supplier will recognise what the CIO requires.

"It's a partnership - but it is also more of a case of Fujitsu recognising what we need to achieve and what we want," says Felstead. Fujitsu originally won the contract to maintain the Forestry Commission's IT hardware in 2003.

Is innovation overrated?
The new contract was won in a competitive tender and the provider will now be responsible for maintaining the Commission's storage, servers and equipment for 2,700 users across more than 100 distributed offices and depots.

There is often a demand from CIOs for suppliers to show more appetite for innovation during the terms of a service contract. Such innovation is expected to help the business make the most of new technical systems and process. But that is not the full story.

Some CIOs require simplicity and a partner that understands the particular demands of their organisation. Felstead, for example, wants a supplier capable of working flexibly in-line with the disparate nature of the Commission's activities, which are spread across the country.

"Innovation can be overrated," says Felstead. "First of all we want the basics done well. We must recognise that if a piece of kit takes too long to fix there might be a better way of doing it. However, innovation is not part of the contract. We want to achieve things but we want to reach those achievements in terms of the bigger picture and cost effectiveness."

Some CIOs might feel even such simple targets are beyond their supplier. For such IT chiefs, Barry Jennings, solicitor in the commercial department at Bird & Bird, offers specific advice: form a lobby group and create a vocal user community that offers feedback to suppliers.

Technology community
"At the enterprise level, customers are never joined up," Jennings says. "Suppliers will sell on a one-by-one basis and customers need to find a way to lobby vendors. There's an active technology community that recognises supplier-based IT could be better but businesses are not engaging with each other to state how systems could be improved."

Perhaps, then, the initiative rests with vendors that are prepared to take a more proactive stance. Joe Baguley, European chief technology officer of Quest Software, provides an interesting example of how suppliers are prepared to use an experienced technology chief to drive understanding and partnerships with customers.

"People buy from people," says Baguley. "Procurement used to be about getting to a particular price point but line-of-business executives are now getting more involved in the whole technical process. Users are getting more savvy and sign-off has moved higher up the tree."

A seasoned IT professional with experience of working on the consultancy side of the technology sector, Baguley has been schooled in deploying enterprise infrastructure, and reports to both Quest's European managing director and the vice president of management and development in the US.

His position provides an axis between technology and business, and he is encouraged to act as an interface to other technology chiefs.

"Our customers like the idea of being able to sit with another IT leader and share ideas," says Baguley. "If a customer wants to find out where we're going, they talk to me. Internally, I work hard to take the results of those conversations back to the other guys in the business and say what users want."

By Mark Samuels

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.