Business agility – the ability to respond to change is largely dependent on technology and the IT function. For any IT leader, the question of “how does my team respond to and manage constant business change” should be an ongoing theme. In the past few months, the intensity of that change has been more prevalent than ever.
IT leaders must also cope with and balance two sometimes opposing and sometimes supportive pressures for change. 1) vendor enforced (i.e. system updates which may not be important to the business but need to be done and 2) change which support the wider business change.
I firmly believe that solid relationships with good vendors underpin the ability for IT teams to deliver a high level of service back to the business. To run an agile technology function, a good level of understanding and trust has to be built up between the customer and vendors. IT leaders are always under pressure to deliver quickly yet thoroughly.
Having competent, commercially minded external partners is the key to success in this area. Yes, they have to be technically proficient, but the vendor also needs an agile business structure to assist with the pressures their customers face. Being able to assign resource, demonstrating flexibility, good communication, going the extra mile and an understanding of commercial pressures in the sector all feed into service delivery.
I’ve dealt with some very technically knowledgeable vendors who provided their services at very reasonable prices so what’s the problem? Simple, it’s delivery.
An IT vendor, like any other organisation, has to be capable of providing a first-class service and becoming a strategic partner. There are the formal and informal aspects of this approach and I’ve focused mainly on the informal as I believe this is where a good foundation for success is based.
As for the technology strategy itself, this shouldn’t be focused solely on infrastructure or product. I have seen technology strategies from some managed service providers that simply resemble a shopping list of equipment and services. Equally sometimes IT teams follow a “CV” strategy – rushing to adopt the latest / most interesting technology which does not link to business strategy. Several firms have “All the Gear” but no idea how to make it valuable. A technology strategy covers many facets.
A good vendor will work with you to develop a technology strategy that:
- Helps you identify how your users interact with technology and provide training or recommendations on how you can operate more efficiently;
- Recommends new services and technology that can assist you in delivering a great service to clients;
- Delivers to the promises made during the sales process;
- Identifies ways to save money in the future.
If I was to create a wish list of informal vendor attributes it would consist of the following:
- Responsiveness. For example, replying to emails and calls, even if it’s just to say “I’m tied up but will get back in touch this afternoon”.
Do what you say you’re going to do. There’s nothing worse than being told you’ll have the information by the end of the day and then nothing.
- Understand me, my business and my challenges. Savvy vendors know that a long-term customer relationship is built on becoming a strategic partner. Asking questions about the challenges, pinch points and direction of the business is a great way to understand how you can work together and gives confidence that you’re trying to do more than just sell a computer or service.
- Understanding my internal customers; what pressure is put on them by system or service frustrations – too often external suppliers like to be kept “a step away” from exposure to the real users of their product.
- Going the extra mile – showing flexibility and standing shoulder to shoulder with you in times of trouble.
The best people I have worked with in this context are also those who live by the mantra “do the right thing for the customer”. It’s not always about upselling. The vendors I’ve worked with the longest have always been those that honestly tell me when I haven’t needed to purchase thousands of pounds worth of new equipment, and that a simple and much cheaper upgrade will suffice.
My advice – find a vendor who is able and willing to become a strategic partner and an extension of your team – that’s the key to a better chance of winning.