More tips for dealing with IT vendors

Now that I’ve covered the more humorous (and hopefully the less typical) side of dealing with vendors, I’d like to present some “lessons learned” for developing and maintaining positive relationships with hardware, software, and service providers. After all, we all need to use vendors’ products and services, and I’ve learned in my own experience that there’s a great deal that the technology executive can do to make a vendor relationship a positive experience for all concerned.

Here are some general tips, tips for during the sales cycle, and then tips for after the sale is over. Topic of a whole separate post in the future will be negotiations; this post will focus on relationship building and value determination.

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Watch out: Top 10 statements by IT vendors

Enough serious posts for the moment: it’s time for a little bit of humor, hopefully with a moral or two in tow.

About 15 years ago, when I was still a director and not a C-level executive, I worked a great deal with vendors providing services, project management, software development, and so on. In particular, my company chose to enter an extended and extremely expensive relationship with a well-known large consulting firm, which was given near-total management control over resource allocation (meaning their own resources) and an apparently unlimited budget. For the next three or four years, I worked closely with them, Biedermann among The Firebugs, working to maintain a semblance of integrity and direction for the project and for my company’s financials.

In the course of all that, I heard certain earnest promises repeatedly, and came to regard such statements as canaries in the coal mine when dealing (especially in the early sales cycle) with new vendors. At the time, finding some strength in humor, I dashed off the following list, which I’m repeating here with some commentary. If you hear any of these statements from a vendor (not to mention several such utterances strung together in an elevator pitch), my strong advice is FAV: Find Another Vendor.

In true David Letterman style, here’s the Top 10 List of Vendor Statements, with annotations.
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tanstaafl: An Introduction to IT Portfolio Management

I’ve already written about how the most important task of management is the proper allocation of resources.

By that, I don’t just mean figuring out that Joe and Bob need to work on Project X this week. At a higher, macro level, the issue of resource assignment deals with how the company, as a whole, plans and spawns its suite of projects.

Much of what I’ll have to say in this post will perhaps seem to be intuitive, even obvious. Yet once again, for all its obviousness, it has been astonishingly controversial at many companies. Better said, these concepts seem to be intellectually understood and accepted, yet then resisted, perhaps due to the old adage of “everyone wants to get into heaven, but no one wants to do what it’ll take to get there.”

What does it take to get there, then? You need to plan and schedule projects holistically, not one by one. This approach is commonly known as Project Portfolio Management (PPM), although that term often is used more to describe the aspect of selecting and prioritizing IT Projects based upon corporate strategic and tactical objectives, and then optimizing the whole set to ensure maximum utility. All of that is both valid and critical, of course. I’ll have more to say about project selection criteria later, and in the meantime would point you to some of the references contained in my Lagniappe section.

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‘Rithmetic: quantitative approaches necessary in the CIO/CTO role

We’ve established the importance of targeted reading and writing for the senior information technology executive. I’d like to turn my attention now to the third R, ‘Rithmetic. Even though the “soft skills” of management are probably most crucial to a successful executive, IT is one area where quantitative skills are a regular (and, sadly, often ignored) part of the job.

I’ll have a lot more to say on each of these subjects in future posts, but for now, let’s outline the seven major arenas in IT where quantitative measurements and analysis need to be part of your arsenal. Some or even all of these will seem obvious and maybe even unavoidable; yet, some, astonishingly, have rarely (or even never!) been touched or attempted in more than one company I’ve seen. In fact, sometimes it seems that even established companies go out of their way not to be quantitative in several of these areas, running instead by “seat of the pants” and gut feel.

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Guest appearance on E-commerce Consulting blog

Sally McKenzie, with whom I worked when I was CTO at Classmates Online, writes a fine e-commerce-oriented blog that I read regularly. So I was especially pleased when Sally asked me to guest-contribute, via a back-and-forth interview format, on the subject of how IT folks and Marketing people can work better together. Not only is this topic especially close to my heart, but Sally’s also one of the sharpest executives I’ve worked with. She especially stands out in her ability to collaborate, forge agreements, and foster teamwork at senior executive levels, so this was a great conversation. Check it out here.

Why reading and writing both matter more than you’ve been led to believe

It’s probably already evident that a lot of the focus of this blog is going to be on “blocking and tackling” principles related to running information technology at a reasonable-sized company. Curiously, those basic principles often seem to get ignored, which is one way that lots of companies end up in crises of information systems delivery and operations.

This post, then, is going to be about the most basic of basics: reading and writing, and their importance (“critical success factor” importance, in fact) to the overall success of a CTO/CIO’s projects and department.

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The perils of a new CTO position

No matter how experienced or battle-scarred you may be as a senior information technology executive, starting a new IT executive job is laden with not only what are politely called “opportunities”, but also an intoxicating amount of mass euphoria. Here’s what you’re almost invariably walking into, no matter what the company is and what the history has been:

  • You’re suddenly the anointed savior of a situation that it seems everyone was frustrated with. Thank God you’re here.
  • All the “sins of the past”, however major they are in impact, are (consensus would seem to have it) nonetheless able to be cleaned up (yes, by you), in a jiffy (say within the first three months or so, unless of course you can do it faster). Get to work.
  • You’re an “ear”, a new source of hope. People will want to explain things to you so that you “get it” as early and as fully as possible.
  • You can’t believe, as you listen to people describe process and products and performance, etc., that things have really been this crazy, this non-standard, this out of norm. It’s great to be somewhere where you can make a quick difference. [Read more…]

Two additional models for CTO/CIO behavior

Although the Five Pillars of Purview are a useful framework for what amounts to functional decomposition of the CTO/CIO role, let’s take a step back, or higher, and look at the meta-behaviors that the senior technology executive needs to exhibit in order to succeed. These augment the Five Pillars by lending them some philosophical background. The Five Pillars are categories for your personal To Do list, as it were; the models I’m about to discuss come closer to being questions about the meaning and purpose of it all.

In one job, I used to put the following two points into each and every department presentation I did as CTO, because I felt that they’re useful insights for every worker, not just executives. They boil down to these two questions: [Read more…]