FOSTERING YOUR INNOVATION WITH YOUR VENDORS AND BUSINESS TEAMS
Your company may be giving IT vendors more help with their innovation than your own innovation. Don’t just give away great ideas. Work with your vendors to not only implement innovation in their products and services, leverage your strategic vendors to help your company’s innovation and improve the value of IT to your business.
A few months ago I shared some thoughts about recognizing innovation within your IT organization. The basic suggestion in that article was to leverage your IT teams service management and program management practices to identify and measure innovation that might otherwise be missed. I somewhat jokingly suggested that IT leaders need to “look under their own noses” and apply practices for real time and retrospective recognition of innovation. This article offers a few suggestions about supplier relationships that many IT organizations do not sufficiently leverage for innovation.
I shared an observation in my previous article that many IT strategies resemble their supplier’s technology release roadmaps. These roadmaps are relatively easy to obtain and collect for your own use. How you collect that information and what you do with it is key. Here are a handful of points and suggestions that I will expand upon here.
- Your company may be giving your IT suppliers more ideas for vendor product innovation than you are aware of and perhaps more than your company receives benefit from.
- Your IT suppliers may very well have better relationships with your procurement office and internal business users than your own IT team.
- Use your suppliers for reconnaissance, relationship building within your own company and to help fund your innovation.
I hope these are obvious points and suggestions. If the first two bullets sound familiar and if you do not have an active plan that executes the last point, then please read on.
DOES YOUR COMPANY FUEL YOUR VENDOR’S INNOVATION MORE THAN YOUR OWN?
Great companies are constantly innovating. Much of the innovation is incremental and it is part of their continual improvement processes. You can bet that the best are listening to their clients and actively looking for areas to improve. You, as an IT leader, should and can be doing the same within your own company. A general suggestion here is that you engage your vendors to help you with your innovation processes. More specifically leverage them to help learn what your own company, and perhaps, your own IT department may be doing that is innovative. Your suppliers put quite a bit of energy into mapping out your company, its business objectives, key contacts and looking for opportunities to sell products and or services into your company. These vendors are motivated and have the talent to establish relationships and engage all levels of personnel. This enables them to fuel their innovation and product development based on what they hear from your company. Whether that is shared with or leveraged by your company at large is for you to determine. If you believe that your vendors have a better understanding of your company’s business or even your IT team’s ideas of leveraging technology then you should definitely have a vendor engagement plan and make a concerted effort to work closer with those vendors.
I have witnessed numerous moments across multiple companies where counterparts from different parts of the same company attend a vendor strategy briefing and learn, for the first time, what is happening in another part of their own company. This should not be an accidental discovery process and it should not surprise you that your vendor may already know this information before that point in time. This is not the moment to shake one’s head and say, “Sheesh, our company should talk to itself more often” or “Heck, our vendors know more about us than we do”. It is a moment to recognize that this is a valuable process that can be leveraged and expanded upon. It goes well beyond just listening to your vendor’s product strategy. It is the tip of an iceberg that you can leverage to learn about and grow relationships within your own company. Better yet, your vendors can foster this and even help invest in taking action on the ideas shared.
INNOVATION THROUGH RECONNAISSANCE, RELATIONSHIPS AND FUNDING
Is your IT team looking for respect? Would your top management and internal business units answer this question the same way the IT leader would? This is a fundamental business value question. Creating business value is the main reason that IT teams should be, correction, need to be an integral part of their company’s innovation processes. Nearly every IT leader has the overarching goals of doing IT better, faster and cheaper. You have heard these mantra innumerable times. These beg for innovation. It is HOW you take action on the mantra that matters.
What matters a lot, some might say most, is relationships. Innovation depends on relationships. Do not for a second assume that your business units or your external clients are going to go out of their way to build or maintain a relationship with your IT team. This takes a conscientious effort to foster and grow internally to your IT team, as well as with your business unit partners. If you do not already have a Business Relationship Management (BRM) function, either formal or informal, as part of your IT execution then you should do something about it and soon. Guess who is? Your suppliers are. On top of that you may also want to consider this: It is not uncommon that internal business units, clients of IT, respect technology vendors more than the IT teams that support those business units. You can either try to compete or you can join forces (strategically of course). I recommend the latter.
Relationships are one of those “touchy feely” subjects that many technology teams still struggle with and to the degree it can spell their own peril from a business value perspective. The cost of having technologists with interpersonal skills may appear to be prohibitive given the usual situation of IT budget constraints. Use your vendor’s investments in sales, sales support and engineering as part of “funding” your internal BRM capability. Even if you have internal BRM resources it is still a good idea to selectively embrace your vendors to gain insight to your company, your clients and to foster collaboration, even execution, among internal teams. Here are some suggestions on how to use vendors to help you keep innovation opportunities through reconnaissance, relationships and funding on your radar.
Reconnaissance: Use your vendor to glean insights about your own internal customers and team. Depending on your company’s business you may also be able to do this for your company’s external customers. It is a potential double edge sword to encourage access to your company by vendors though it is important to recognize that you are unlikely to be able to control it in the first place. This is particularly true of shared services IT teams that have to support autonomous business units that have their own IT capabilities. Treat select vendors as part of your extended team. That means listening to them that can help you listen to your teams and your business units.
Relationships: Your vendors, the good ones anyhow, will have the ability to foster relationships with your internal teams including business units, IT and procurement/supplier management. Vendors have subject matter that will help bring disparate teams to the same table. Sharing product roadmaps as stated above is a simple example of subject matter that will attract attendance. Facilitating interaction and follow up activities from joint vendor sessions is where the real potential exists. Many IT vendors are willing to help in this regard though I recommend you have a focal point within your company to orchestrate this versus abdicating the role to a vendor or worse yet ignoring it all together. Take note. If you are ignoring your vendors and their interaction with your business units you will pay later and potentially dearly. Those IT organizations that have no budget or aptitude for BRM roles may have few other choices than to rely on and leverage their vendors.
Funding: Beyond leveraging your vendor’s resources for keeping tabs on your business units and assisting in building relationships, the real “rubber hits the road” incentive is to work with your vendors to implement ideas. This is the heart of innovation. Putting ideas in to practice. This is also one of the key ways to have a continual process of bringing autonomous business units into real working relationships with your IT teams. It also provides the benefit of helping avoid those situations where business units implement solutions on top of technologies that IT teams have not seen or had any role in selecting. Clearly, vendors want you to use their products. That is part of the balancing act that you will need to address and manage. Keep your eyes open though, there are important resources available, especially from the bigger suppliers such as IBM, Microsoft or Cisco, to help move your innovation agenda forward. IT leaders with any material spend on IT products should be looking to leverage their vendors resources to complement your own. If you are not, do not be surprised if your business units are and that they are doing so without you.
First and foremost, as I stated in the previous article, listen to your internal teams and create a collaborative non-controlling environment that fosters innovation among your company’s team, including the business units. The foundational premise of this article is to treat select suppliers like extended team members and leverage their information and resources to your company’s benefit. You are missing some very significant opportunities if this is not being pursued for your company. This does not require an extensive outlay of capital or expense, especially if you focus on incremental innovation. It is my opinion that incremental innovation can be funded within IT operational budgets and significantly augmented by working closely with your vendors.
Innovation depends on relationships. Vendor relationships can be a vital asset to you in forming and maintaining relationships with your internal and external customers. Cultivate and steer your vendor and business unit relationships instead of trying to control them. This can bear innovation fruit on a continual basis.
Thank you for your interest in this article. If you would like to access our other articles, white papers and on-demand webinars, please visit the CastlePointe website at http://www.castlepointe.com/The-IT-Transformation-Journey.html.
Headquartered in Newport Beach, CA, CastlePointe is a premier provider of strategic IT consulting services to Fortune 2000 firms. Uniquely focused on helping IT executives transform their organizations to drive innovation, react to market changes and continually reduce IT operating costs, CastlePointe operates nationally from offices in California, New Jersey and Tennessee. Using our proprietary DeepRoots™ methodology, we help IT leaders execute targeted programs based on specific, business-driven objectives that improve operational efficiencies, increase service performance and build leadership at all levels of their organization. To learn more about CastlePointe, please visit us at www.castlepointe.com.