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Why IT Partners Will Serve You Better Than Vendors. Seven Key Areas Where A Partner Relationship Trumps a Vendor

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There are many competent vendors in the UK IT market who are able to sell fit-for-purpose, best-of-breed technology solutions that meet the stated requirements. The problem is that often your requirements can be really vague at best, and if you’re not very careful you can end up buying in something that fits your vendor’s key competencies, rather than your own business strategy.

That’s not a partnership.

Like in any great relationship, partners listen, they understand what you’re about – what makes you tick. They always want what’s best for you and act in your best interests and, of course in return, they get to share in your success.

Imagine walking into a car showroom, the air thick with the aroma of fresh coffee and that new car smell. Now picture going up to the sharp suited salesman and saying that you’d like to buy a car. You might expand by explaining it’s got to have 4 wheels and a steering wheel but your brief is a vague one.

What are you likely to end up with?

You may get lucky and drive away in that nice family Mondeo that fits your requirements and budget perfectly. More likely, however, you’ll buy something that fits the dealer’s speciality and stock. Sure, it meets your requirements on paper, but it is either over specified and difficult to maintain, under specified (well, you didn’t say it had to have 4 seats), massively expensive or quickly becomes obsolete.

As a customer it’s partly your responsibility to be specific (that’s why a spec is called a spec) and it’s partly the responsibility of the dealership, not to see you as a walking wallet when you walk through the door.

Some IT vendors still do this, they either see you as a chance to offload an IT system that they know inside out, but will only partly meet your needs or they just see you as a blank cheque adding extras to the bill like that car dealer adding alloys and Xenon lights to an old lady’s shopping car.

In an IT environment, this is what I term the difference between “front loading” and “back loading”.

A client/vendor engagement like this “backloads” the work to be done at a later date, rather than “frontloading” the work – i.e. requirements definition, use cases, high level design – upfront and getting to grips with what you actually need and really understanding your short, mid and long term business strategies.

It’s a common practice that we see all the time, but it rarely gets you anywhere except maybe at best luring you in and helping you to identify a chosen vendor to work with. Of course, downstream, when you realise that your vendor is no closer delivering your shiny new solution than they were at the start, and you now have to enter into a detailed specification process, you can reflect on the lost time and wasted money but by this time of course you’ve already committed to a vendor and you are effectively beholden to them.

It can have wider implications too.

Recently, a client was in the enviable position of moving towards being almost entirely cloud based. Let me be clear here, this was a stated, strategic aim that they had been working towards for some time. Furthermore, their existing managed services contract was coming up for renewal within the next 6 months – an ideal opportunity to get rid of those last legacy server farms at the managed service providers data centre, you might think.

So did they! There was just one snag.

Previously they’d asked their trusted managed service provider for a Wifi solution. Not being particularly savvy in that area, they’d approached their “car salesman” with some pretty loose requirements. Even so, the managed service provider had worked with the client for the past five years so could reasonably have been expected to have a pretty good appreciation of their ongoing strategy towards cloud. Unfortunately, it did not play out quite so successfully as all that.

They were sold a solution with physical kit sat in the data centre. Popular cloud-based alternatives were not even mentioned. This is where a partner relationship comes into its own – a partner knows what your aims are, and steers you towards the best in class to meet your specific requirements – not what they happen to be selling at that moment in time.

Had the vendor taken them for granted? Maybe. Treated them with contempt even? Perhaps. Essentially, the vendor sold them what they wanted to deliver, where their core competencies lay and not what the client really needed.

Not the end of the world, you might think, but the client was left with the option of writing off the value of the expensive Cisco kit they had sat in the managed service partner’s data centre, or compromising their midterm strategy to protect their existing investment. Not a difficult choice you might say, but it is when you are grant funded and accountable for every penny.

Not all vendors behave this way, you might already be with the right IT provider for one area of your operation, but they might not be the best fit for others – IT is becoming increasingly commoditised. Perhaps you don’t want to engage more fully with your vendor? Keeping them at arm’s length can often seem like a good idea when sales calls are coming in every 10 minutes, or maybe you just want to work with someone who connects more with your business goal and can deliver IT to make it happen.

There are seven key areas where I think a partner relationship trumps a vendor ...

  1. Saves money – while improving and constantly enhancing IT support and services, better protecting your organisation through best practice frameworks and enhanced IT service delivery.
  2. Accesses and utilises essential IT resources in the most efficient ways.
  3. Aligns and integrates best of breed providers – to benefit your business, not the vendor’s.
  4. Optimises in-house staffing levels and resources.
  5. Reduces management overheads, ease supplier management, streamline processes.
  6. Reduces operational risk through contract freedom and flexibility.
  7. Improves compliance and security.

Having a product and vendor independent partner who has a broader understanding of your IT/infrastructure strategy, working for your interests can avoid unnecessary expense, incorrect or misguided product/solution choices and invariably increases your IT agility in the mid and long term.

Frontloading the work may seem a burden, after all isn’t that what you want the vendor to do on your behalf ? Actually, it’s important to realise that this is something you need to drive, and the time and quality of the effort you put in up front will directly determine the suitability of the end solution.

Ultimately, it’s the only way to ensure you get what you need and not what the vendor wants to sell you.

Frankly, if they don’t take the time to get your business ... they don’t deserve to get your business.

Contact us to learn more about how Stoneseed's IT Advisory Services can help you to ensure best value and align IT to business goals.

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