Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Feb 6 2012   3:44AM GMT

When your vendor sneaks in from the top

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

In my last article I had written about vendors who sometimes bypass the CIOs to connect with the CEOs or business managers to solicit business. It was wonderful to receive a few responses and views and that really enriches the debate on the topic. They agreed that this phenomenon is prevalent and they too have experienced such cases during their careers.

There were mixed reactions to such action of vendors. Whereas some said that vendors, in the interest of short term gains spoil their long term interests by straining their relationship with the CIO, some others in the IT services fraternity shared that they are often constrained as CIOs sometimes are not responsive enough.

A concern was also expressed by some that CIOs often get into a balancing act, trying to go as per their conscience and better judgment taking the interest of his organization into account, but at the same time risking their position by taking a stand that is contrary to the interest of some in the management. Sure, this is a valid concern and is a real-life situation that need to be addressed. A CIO should not behave like an activist trying to reform everyone, but has to use his art of persuasion and be convincing. He cannot overrun the powers of superiors and has to act within the authority he possesses. From an idealist he has to turn a practitioner who understands the limits of his powers but who is not afraid of raising questions.

Let me talk of a few instances from my experience:

CEO’s prestige on the block

I was once caught in a peculiar situation quite a few years ago. Egged on by a vendor, our CEO wanted video conferencing facility to be installed in three of the main offices which were within a 30 KM radius. The requirement was unclear but the CEO perhaps wanted it to hold his head high in the circle of CEOs. I certainly thought this was uncalled for and was sure this would not be used as people moved around between offices every day. I held back the proposal for over a year but the CEO told me in clear terms that he wants it to be installed and I had to obey his command. My senior whispered into my ears ‘you can’t be more loyal than the king’. I learnt a lesson.

Use persuasive skills

During days of the internet boom, a wily vendor met our CEO and convinced him to have an e-visioning study done paving the way for e-commerce. Our CEO mentioned of his CIO telling him to stabilize systems with ERP first before embarking on e-commerce. You can trust the vendor to argue his case and sow seeds of doubt in the mind of the CEO. The CEO therefore held back approvals and wouldn’t let me proceed. It then took me a lot of effort and couple of months to convince him that even if we were to go for e-commerce, we had no reliable internal systems to efficiently process orders received through the internet and that such instances may actually tarnish the company’s image. Fortunately I had my message through and was able to tackle the problem created by the vendor.

When unconvinced, pass off the ownership

I faced an instance when a vendor made a direct contact with the marketing and sales head, making him pitch for introducing sales force automation to tackle competition. On enquiry, I found that adequate study was not carried out to evaluate the extent of data to be captured, people needed for deployment, the process changes and the intended analysis of data for decision making. However, the marketing head went ahead and obtained approval of the CEO telling him that his expectations could be met only through such a system. Knowing that it was futile to resist further, I convinced marketing and sales to take on the ownership of the project assuring them of full IT support. Though the system was implemented successfully, the management was still asking for the benefits being delivered by the project.

I am sure there will be several such experiences which others can share. The fact is that it is never too easy to handle situations created by clever vendors who sneak in to solicit business. Organization culture, power equations, hierarchy status and competitive politics are factors that we have to tackle, but if we manage to cut across these factors and to have our way, it would give us that extra sense of satisfaction.

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