Straight Talk on Project Management

IT service delivery success

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3 pillars of IT Service Delivery success – It’s easy to make good decisions when there are no bad options

US businessman Robert Half said, “It’s easy to make good decisions when there are no bad options.”

I often think of this quote when embarking upon engagement of vendors for an IT project or consulting on IT service delivery.

It can feel like that and anyone who has ever made a bad IT decision will instantly see the wisdom in Half’s words – and that’s pretty much all of us – right?

Whether it’s signing up a vendor who dazzled pre-contract and then didn’t deliver or getting stung by mid-contract hidden charges or about a million other ways that an IT decision can bite you – we’ve all been there – or at least been witness to a bad IT choice.

What’s more, it’s going to get harder to make the right decisions, the commoditisation of IT and breaking up of larger IT contracts has been great for the market but the creation of many smaller IT providers has not come without its pitfalls. So much choice. So many more ‘bad options’.

In IT, more than ever, to separate the ‘good decisions’ from the ‘bad options’, your IT Service Delivery Agreements must be based on the following …

Three Pillars of IT Service Delivery Success.

1 – Cultural and Strategic Alignment

2 – Clarity of Purpose

3 – Trust through Partnership

There are other ingredients, of course, but if you start with these three pillars as non-negotiable elements, each IT mission you embark upon will have a more successful outcome. More on each coming up. First let’s consider what can go wrong.


“Buy cheap, buy twice.” How many times have you either said or at least heard that? I’ve applied this rule to the purchase of my son’s bike, to shoes, to televisions and I’ve heard it quoted by friends when comparing potential acquisitions from dishwashers to skiing equipment, from cars to double glazing.

Do you know where I’ve never heard anyone say it? In an IT vendor selection scenario. Which, when you consider the size of some IT contracts and their strategic importance to the business mission, could be a big mistake.

What happens often is that the bean counters pull rank over the IT experts or in some cases IT procurement has devolved to department heads who have different priorities. However the decision is arrived at, in a worryingly large number of instances, organisations who chose the cheapest option come to regret their decision.

Sometimes it’s integrating it with legacy systems, sometimes it’s making adjustments to accommodate future needs and sometimes it’s just that it was plainly the wrong choice from the outset but the cost of choosing cheap can frequently be way in excess of the next more expensive but better option.


I see this time and again. An IT vendor pitches for work with their best talent but when it comes to delivery you get an alternative crew.

Like when a football team replaces every player in its starting line for a cup game or a fast food restaurant entices you in with a delicious looking picture and serves you a limp, bland burger – the customer feels short changed.

In an IT Vendor relationship you are the customer – if they pitched with their ‘A’ team make them deliver with it.


Still too many big projects are awarded to single vendors who then treat the contract as a blank cheque. Happily, thanks to the way the IT market has shifted, it doesn’t happen quite as frequent these days and mostly now in the public sector but it still persists where vendors can get away with it.

They either exploit contract terms that are in their favour or they abuse the ‘trust’ that you have invested in them over successive contracts (sometimes the less likely you are to shift to another supplier the less likely you are to get the best out of your current one!) or sometimes they just ‘saw you coming’ and they look on your boardroom driven strategic outsourcing as a chance to sell the emperor a whole new wardrobe of invisible clothes.

Each IT project or service should have some experienced IT input – but commoditisation of IT has seen much control taken from IT departments and placed with individual department heads – some vendors see this as a rich vein of revenue.


In her ‘Network World’ blog ’10 outsourcing trends to watch in 2016′ Stephanie Overby predicted that ‘VMOs will go mainstream’.

If giving everything to one supplier leaves you open to exploitation, spreading your outsourced contracts across multiple vendors, or multisourcing, can be just as perilous if you don’t have full control over your contracts.

It can be like trying to herd cats and this is where a Service Delivery partnership will save you time, money and stress. Rather than trying to manage multiple IT contracts yourself you can outsource the process to a partner who will do it for you. Look out for words like ‘clientside’ – you want to make sure that you’re getting a partner who will work transparently in your interests and just not a broker or agent who scores work for IT providers.

Stephanie Overby quoted Alsbridge’s Mike Slavin, “As clients look for ways to address the challenges of overseeing increasingly complex multi-vendor service delivery models, the [vendor management office] will establish itself as a way to provide a high-level, enterprise-wide view while at the same time managing day-to-day operational details and multiple touch points between different providers in the service delivery chain.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Nice one Mike and thanks for sharing Stephanie!


Good IT vendors can sometimes deliver poor results because of a lack of cultural alignment between their organisation and yours.

“It’s not you, it’s me” is a classic way of ending a relationship without (you think) upsetting the person you are dumping. What you usually mean is ‘it is you’ but I don’t want a scene.

In truth, in relationships of the heart and IT partnerships often neither is true. It would be more accurate to say, “It’s not you, it’s not me, IT’S US!” More often than you’d imagine an IT project or service fails because of a lack of cultural synergy between client and vendor.

I think of IT as the lifeblood of an organisation – if you needed a transfusion of actual lifeblood you’d make sure that the donor was a match for your blood type. Being just as selective when choosing an IT vendor can save you much disruption later.


Outsource an IT service without laser focus on the required outcome and you are more than likely condemning it to fail to deliver.

Before you even enter the market for the ‘what’ you need to know ‘why’.

Furthermore, consider the future, if you’re signing up to a service for 24 months – will it still meet your needs in two years time? Use your 5 or 10-year business plans as a measure for future IT needs.

I once observed a debrief after a department head had bought in an IT system that had failed to integrate into the legacy system. In his defence, the department manager said that he had crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’. I smiled as the IT guy present asked, “Did you forget the lower case ‘j’s?”

It has to be that thorough and your mission has to be clear and understood by all.


This happens more than it should. We’ve already considered the impact of a vendor not fitting in with your world but do you ever consider where YOU fit into theirs?

Imagine you and your partner book a table at your local restaurant to celebrate your anniversary. You arrive to find that all the other tables have been booked by a party of millionaires drinking Cristal like it was tap water. Would you expect the same level of service as you would have got if you’d turned up and been amongst just a handful of diners? Probably not – but the meal is still as important to you – it’s your anniversary!

Sometimes vendors just don’t attribute the same importance to a service as you do. You would prioritise work for a flagship, big spending client … why should IT vendors operate differently?

When choosing an IT partner, sometimes it pays to select a smaller vendor who will see you as a big deal over a big player to whom you will be just an account number.

So that’s just seven things that can go wrong … seven ways that you can end up with a “bad option” as Robert Half called them.

There are many others!

BUT don’t get disheartened – I prefer to focus on the first part of Half’s quote.

Embed the three pillars of IT Service Delivery success that I shared at the start and most huge pitfalls become small potholes.

Remember – Three Pillars of IT Service Delivery Success.

1 – Cultural and Strategic Alignment

When your vendor works like you do, when your IT Service is aligned to your business mission – your chances of success increase.

2 – Clarity of Purpose

Be certain of the intended outcome from outsourcing a service before you enter the market for a provider. AND not just now – how well will the service integrate with other departments, requirements and systems in the future?

3 – Trust through Partnership

Look for the word ‘clientside’. Even in the commoditised world of IT, you can achieve partnerships that yield much more than you’d get from salesmen selling the latest off the shelf, out of a box wonder product. At the heart of every relationship – proper TRUST.

Do this and just like Robert Half (half) said …

“It’s easy to make good decisions”.

Find out more about how Stoneseed’s Service Delivery Management services  can help you to improve the quality and reduce the cost of your IT Service Delivery.

Find out more about Service Delivery Assessments from Stoneseed

Source: Network World: Outsourcing trends to watch in 2016