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Who is at fault?
In all honesty it is the mostly the business or buyer. Of course it is an IT perspective. What did you think I was going to say? Before you dismiss the rest of the article, hear me out.
Business holds all the cards, funds and makes the rules. The vendor is there to make a sale. The market is competitive enough that one shot is all that is available and it had better be the right pitch. The vendor is hoping that by closing the deal, there will be an opportunity to tailor the deal later so that the buyer and vendor can arrive at the right choice. That does not always happen. The buyer may become unhappy and blame the vendor for not providing the right solution. Short-term gain, long-term loss, a non-referenceable client. That is the hard way to run a business when you have to look for new clients every day. It is worse in the public sector because the entire process is visible and open, and once the decision is made it is not easy to tailor it.
If this happens to a business and its buyers a few times, the result is a distrust of vendors and their wares. If this scenario is applied to a business and either a technology vendor or an in-house technology department, then the outcome is a lack of trust and confidence between business and technology.
Business heads typically do not accept any responsibility for fiasco’s that result from poor decision making. Just like in the NFL, owners fire the coach or the manager. Executives of internal IT departments are in tough positions unless they have the ear and respect of the business. Agreed, it must be earned. But once earned, then both business and IT are responsible for maintaining that earned trust. It should be possible for an IT executive to challenge a business counterpart when business plays badly. It cannot automatically become an IT issue. If it does, look for departures in the IT department, discontentment and friction between business and IT.
Vendors or external IT providers are a different story. Business can have less leverage with external companies because they are normally hired based on contracts. It is then a matter of how well the contract is written and in whose favor. If the contract is one sided in the client’s favor, expect a poor result. A vendor may take the money and run leaving a disgruntled and distrusting client in the wake. Unscrupulous vendors will eventually run out of rope, but they will leave the same bad taste with clients. If the contract is in the vendor’s favor, let’s hope they are ethical and do not plan to take the customer for a ride. If they do, they will not be in business for very long.
There are different prescriptions for how business and suppliers of IT services should act, so that it becomes a fair and responsible partnership.
Vendors must become solution providers and not product pushers, i.e., become a complete service provider. This is not an easy change. The marketing, sales and service philosophies for selling products and services are very different and must be embraced by the entire company. Service providers also require more up-front investment in better understanding the clients’ business, if they are to become clients for life.
I had the opportunity in a past business life to visit a significant vendor of software products. When I would talk to their executives about providing solutions vs. pushing products (or boxes as they are known in the business), the response was an emphatic “yes”. That was the correct strategy in their opinion. However, they were not able to translate that kind of strategy downstream to sales staff and measure them on solution selling versus. pushing products. The quota was still based on product volume and dollar sales. As a channel partner with such firms, measurement of success becomes confusing and so does the relationship with the software vendor and a company’s own clients. Often, success with one of those parties causes a company to be at odds with the other.
A business must be clear in its objectives of why it is hiring a solution provider – be it an in-house department or an external company. Sometimes both are needed; an external company may augment in-house staff. Lack of clarity will lead to dissatisfaction with internal IT management, external companies or both.
It is helpful if a business has a well laid out methodology and approach in how any initiative or project will be carried out through its phases. More than that, it is important for business and IT management to be engaged where they have good communication and respect for each other.
A simple approach is for business and IT to have an internal “contract” where a need is specified and a solution is offered and agreed to by both parties. This initial agreement then needs to be further elaborated and the requirements, deliverables, costs and timelines laid out in detail. Deviation from this detail blueprint requires mutual agreement and the result should be joint success or failure. Both groups should be equally lauded or culpable as long as the rules are followed.
My reason for concluding that many failures are caused by business is because they often do not enter into an honest contract with IT and the blame game results in terminating IT management because business holds the funds and most of the cards. I am not holding the IT management and staff completely innocent. As with any other demographic, there are competent ones and those that are in over their heads. The competent and smart ones spend a great deal of time courting business counterparts to make sure they are on the same page with them. The smart ones surround themselves with capable professionals and delegate responsibility to them so each role plays to its assets and abilities. Management basics.
However, the most important point of this article is that the success or failure of the relationship between business and IT is greater on the business side because it has more to give up in trust to the IT folks and depends on their ability to deliver. Unless IT is given a reasonable change to do its job, without constant hindsight quarterbacking, the results will not be positive and the culture of distrust will continue.
To view the previous article on Business and IT distrust, click here.
Author: Shami Dugal is a member of ASPA and on the SHHSA Board. He has Bachelor’s degree in Operations Research from University of Waterloo (Canada) and an MPA from Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa). He can be reached at [email protected]