Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jan 30 2012   8:18AM GMT

When vendors bypass CIOs

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

This situation is not uncommon. CIOs deal with a host of vendors and take pride in their vendor management skills. While they successfully manage vendors that they are engaged with, it is some of these sly, fleet footed vendors who give them a slip. These vendors may be the ones whom CIOs are already in touch with, or new ones; but they find out ways to bypass the CIO and reach the top or get in touch with business managers to solicit business. They are smart and use their maneuvering skills to further their business interests. Well, they do what is the best for them; but let us look at such situations and find ways of tackling them.

Vendor tactics

Vendors find out different ways to approach the seniors and I have seen them adopting one or more of the following means:

a. Golf Buddies: What could be better than playing golf with the CEO or a Director? A short conversation telling the CEO of the great value that the vendor firm can bring to his company, could pave the way for a possible assignment. The CIO would then be told to give info to the vendor so that he can prepare a proposal. The CIO feels short charged.

b. Befriending in a seminar: CEOs and Business managers do attend conferences and seminars organized by industry bodies or global vendors and these vendors lurk around to exchange business cards and start a conversation. Through good selling skills, the vendor can easily win the client’s heart. CEO may see no harm in discussing a possible solution. The CIO then holds the tray as the vendors go through the motion.

c. Leveraging acquaintance: What if the CEO or a business manager happens to be his friend, his batch mate, or an erstwhile colleague? Shouldn’t he make use of that acquaintance? Requesting a meeting for old-time’s sake is not a bad idea and perfectly legitimate. The talk then will usually veer around the business being handled by both and how one can help the other. A known person is always a safe bet, and well, the vendor is on his way.

d. Pressure of targets: We all know that vendor companies usually live on quarterly targets and are known to be aggressive when they fall short of the numbers at the period end. Frantic efforts are then made, including attempts to trap the senior management and they often succeed. Business interests take precedence over propriety and short cuts sound most appropriate for such situations. CIOs, sometimes, are unable to weather this storm.

e. Requesting a review: Present vendors are also hungry for more opportunities and they know that for more business, they have to get to the big fish. So they suggest and strongly advocate a meeting with the top leadership to review the work done thus far, and to understand and capture management’s aspirations and vision. Talking of right things could certainly strengthen their relationship and hence an assured business.

Can the CIO fight back?

They are clever, aren’t they?  More than one such incident may make the CIO take a back seat and watch helplessly. His role may then slowly fade and instead of running the show, he may just be following instructions given. Now how does he fight his way through? Let us look at some of these options:

a. Be proactive: Be on your feet and look around for opportunities in business that you can address, and not wait for the users to come to you with a requirement. If you are already engaged with them, in all likelihood, the business manager will either direct the vendor to you or invite you to be a part of the discussion with him.

b. Be visible to the management: Be in touch with the management through active participation and sending updates as relevant. They would then ask the vendor to discuss with the CIO.

c. Be current with technology developments: Keep your eyes and ears open, be in the know of new developments and think of possible solutions. You will then not be embarrassed when the vendor comes up with his trump card.

d. Don’t give the impression that you are rigid and all for status quo: Vendors often approach the top when they get a feeling that you are an impediment and therefore not worth speaking to. They love progressive CIOs.

The challenge cannot therefore be wished away but be possibly handled well in many cases.

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