Five ways to manage your IT vendor better

Are you in a love-hate relationship with your IT vendor? We show you the steps to a greater partnership.
Written by Ong Boon Kiat, Contributor

Are you in a love-hate relationship with your IT vendor? Follow these steps to a great partnership.

For those who have never once harbored thoughts of choking their IT vendors, it must be because a) they are nice folks, the type who, when they see screaming kids at supermarket aisles, smile to friends and say “aren’t they cute?”; or b) they are vendors.

For the rest of us, managing IT vendors is a love-hate affair. And we are not talking about nasty vendors who are prone to developing bad memory right after selling us a system. Easy-going, placid vendors can also drive us mad when they lack initiatives and drive in a long project. Even forthright, hardworking vendors can be troublesome when they become too pushy and demand that we do things the “right” way.

But don’t just blame the vendors. End users must also share the responsibility when their project stalls or takes a nasty turn because it is their responsibility to inform, give feedback and manage their vendors. Here are five ways to help you do it right:

1. Let your vendors make money
“Don’t squeeze your vendor so hard that they cannot make money,” says Craig Baty, group vice-president and chief of research, Gartner. It is natural for organizations to try to extract the maximum output from vendors but they should not be unrealistic. This is especially true for outsourcing projects, where the health of your outsourcer impacts your organization’s financial and operational well-being. “Outsourcers have got to make enough to re-invest (to increase service quality), or both of you will suffer in the long term,” says Baty, who leads Gartner’s Global IT Management.

2. Be sensible about the bidding
Don’t accept the lowest bid for a project without checking for missing components, advises Marcus Wan, general manager, IT Centre, Accord Infotech. And even if all pieces appear to be present, do not discount the higher bids without studying them thoroughly. In fact, he feels that the vendor bidding process should not be viewed only as a means for obtaining the best discounts, but also as a way to better understand the true scope of the project. “The process of multiple vendor quotation lets me learn about the different technical expertise of each vendor, through the information disseminated during the bidding. Besides, you’ll know which vendors have real capabilities and which are just plain bluffing,” says Wan.

3. Don’t think on behalf of your vendors
Secretaries hate it when bosses tell them how to sharpen pencils and arrange the staples. In the same way, users shouldn’t dictate to vendors how they should or shouldn’t do their job at every turn. “It’s none of your business” is Baty’s blunt advice to enterprises, because doing so will only breed mistrust and resentment between customer and vendor. Which is why he is disappointed that many organizations he knows still get worked up when their service provider goes off-shore to fulfil their services. “Would you go into a shoe shop and demand that your shoes must not be made in China?” he asks.

4. Make partners out of suppliers
“I have learnt that we have to adopt a partnership kind of mentality and not that of a supplier-customer relation-ship,” says Ryan Chioh, executive director of the Singapore-based FarEastFlora.com.

“This is important because then you will work through problems together instead of pointing fingers,” he adds. And vendors who embrace this mentality will also have a higher tendency to bring out issues that its customers may not be aware of.

Chioh recounts how it took his company two years of searching and going through presentations before deciding on a principal IT provider which the team is most comfortable with and which knew FarEastFlora.com’s business processes best. The lesson: Pick your vendor with the same care as you would a friend.

5. Weave new people into the picture
Some of the worst problems are a result of personality clashes. Even if they aren’t, changing project team members can often work wonders to clear a stalled project.

“You’d be amazed how fast things can get resolved sometimes when you change team members, and the reason is because it always helps bring the focus back onto the problem rather than the people,” says Patrick Medley, Country Leader, Singapore, IBM Business Consulting Services. While he keeps a customer-is-king mantra, Medley will not shy away from asking his customer to remove their own project staff if he is sure they are the cause of problems. Ultimately, he said, companies must look for a win-win situation because an “I win” scenario never works in a partnership.

This article first appeared in the November issue of CNETAsia's C|Level magazine

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