The relationship between enterprises and their IT vendors is bound by a soft fabric. The most common undercurrents in such a relationship are centered on frustrations, unreasonable expectations and realities, unfulfilled business requirements, long and circuitous communications, and, in general, a sense of lack of clarity and control.
Enterprise IT directors are always struggling to set the right goals, and then to meet them. IT service providers, on the other side, have their own struggles, and often their relationship with the client plummets to the status of a “do-what-you're-asked, nothing more” arrangement.
The big question, then, is – what can enterprise IT stakeholders (CIOs, CIOs, regional and country leads, data security officers, etc.) do to make vendor interactions an enabling force for quicker, cheaper, and better implementations? Let’s explore some answers.
Problem first, solution next
The cardinal mistake to avoid in any enterprise-vendor relationship is to focus on finding the “best” technology to fit into the requirement, rather than finding the best “solution” to do so. A solution will encompass the technology, along with operational practices, process design, and process-control practices. A technology-first approach can create a lot of chaos, particularly for enterprises that deploy several different technologies for different business requirements.
When you keep the “problem” or “gap” at the core of the discussion, you'll invariably motivate the vendor to come up with the optimized technology solution, which, when coupled with operational control form your side, will achieve the desired business result better than a purely best-in-class technology can ever achieve.
Creating a gateway for collaboration and communication
Ask your service provider for the top five challenges it faces in delivering the best possible service levels. Problems in communicating with other third-party vendors for the enterprise, and collaborating with different IT teams within the enterprise - it's a fair chance that you'll hear of such issues. Here, CIOs and IT directors have a key role to play in laying down the practices that enable quick and effective cross-vendor and cross-team communications and collaborations.
A proven effective mechanism to achieve synergies via communication is to designate a single liaison partner, with the responsibility of facilitating collaborative work. When your vendor supporting your ERP needs your cloud CRM team to solve an issue around outbound interface, they should know that an email to the liaison partner will get them the stakeholders from the other team on board within the same day.
Steering past the constraining influence of key users
This is what we call the “expert syndrome"; unfortunately, most enterprises aren't immune to the ravages of this problem. It impacts their choice of technologies, vendor relationship quality, and ultimately, the achievement of technology-enabled business goals, albeit in a negative manner.
Every enterprise has power users, and these users, invariably, are parts of steering committees handling IT implementations. Just because a few key users are comfortable in one kind of technology or process, they often tend to steer the vendor toward solutions that they are comfortable with, and not those that will be a better fit for the enterprise as a whole.
When these experts leave, they take their expertise along with them, leaving the enterprise with a technology that suddenly becomes a constraint instead of being an enabler. CIOs would do well to create environments for vendors to put forth their best solutions, irrespective of the proclivities and preferences of key users in the enterprise.
Leverage your vendor to understand your IT infrastructure
The average IT-dependent enterprise doesn't know its own IT infrastructure well enough because of factors such as the exodus of original key team members, undocumented updates and upgrades, and disconnected IT management practices. This means that any attempt of digital transformation ought to be preceded by an endeavor to understand current state of IT infrastructure.
This is where your current vendors can be worth their weight in gold. An invitation to comment on your enterprise IT on the whole is an open offer to an IT vendor to understand your enterprise's current state of technology, and suggest areas of improvement. Multiple operating systems, a spectrum of hardware, outdated technologies, obsolete products, lack of user training, unexplored potential in existing implemented technologies, scope for automation and digitization - all these are exercises critical to IT empowerment for your enterprise, and if you don’t have in-house expertise, your vendor can do it for you.
Understanding your preferred communication methods
It's not uncommon for enterprises to live with their service vendor's chosen communication mechanisms, even if they don’t fit into the scheme of communication practices preferred by the organization. When to email, when to call, when to update the ticketing tool, whom to inform, whom to escalate information to - these are communication questions that must be answered by the enterprise instead of the vendor. Agile communication can enable success for technology implementations, and as an IT decision maker for your enterprise, you’d do well to engage with the vendor, and align communication practices to how your enterprise wants it.
Training (or the lack of it) for end users
It's easy for IT implementation teams to lose focus about the need for user training, which takes its toll on the post-implementation experience of the enterprise. In fact, most implementation contracts only lay down a budget for initial training, with no mention of continued training practices. Now's the time to initiate a dialog with your IT vendor, to understand the options you have for setting up continued and periodic training exercises for end users. Additional training becomes necessary when the technology is upgraded, customized, and when new people join the team. IT contracts that provide for as-needed training are the way forward for enterprises.
Believe it: You can get a lot more benefit out of your existing IT service providers, if you invest thought into how you handle them, and how better practices will result in better implementations.
Photo credit: Shutterstock