A late New Year's resolution: Be nice to a supplier and see what happens

When I very briefly joined TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) as an IT service management (ITSM) consultant a year ago today, I met a fellow new recruit Sandy Winschief - a vendor/supplier management specialist armed with a pair of Six Sigma black...

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When I very briefly joined TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) as an IT service management (ITSM) consultant a year ago today, I met a fellow new recruit Sandy Winschief - a vendor/supplier management specialist armed with a pair of Six Sigma black belts.

Sandy was/is a key piece in TCS’ Service Integration offering jigsaw and someone who made me think more about the relationships between IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations and their suppliers.

Sorry, you said, "service integration"?

For those new to service integration, I offer the following "definition" from a Forrester colleague’s thinking:

"To make multisourcing arrangements effective, customers must get suppliers to work together, both from the commercial and operational standpoint. The services integration layer, comprising elements of process, tools, service-level agreements (SLAs), and related structures, is absolutely critical to the success of these arrangements."

My ITSMWPROW podcast colleague James Finister gives a more detailed overview in his personal blog.

So how can Sandy’s vendor/supplier management expertise help I&O professionals?

There has been a lot of talk about ITSM and 2012 challenges: cloud, improving service, cloud, outsourcing, cloud, but not a lot said about the service providers - your suppliers, the people that could actually help you with these challenges.

You’ve probably spent a lot of time and effort through your procurement departments setting up an RFP process, sourcing suitable providers, going through the whole elaborate selection process, but, since the ink has dried on the contract, have you actually had an in-depth conversation with any of your key suppliers?

When suppliers are mentioned it’s sometimes in hushed tones of "they’re only there to do as little as possible and for as much money as possible. Not provide value for money." And the first focus on suppliers is often via SLAs, ensuring that the contract provides a swift kick to obtain service credits at the first opportunity - doesn’t that suggest you’re expecting failure?

Have you ever thought that suppliers don’t actually want to disappoint (by providing a poor service)? Who in their right mind goes to work to do a bad job? We are now more than ever in a 'reputation economy' and suppliers know that you will tell your colleagues and peers about poor supplier performance (maybe at the next ITSM conference you attend) - surely they need positive customer feedback to maintain and increase revenue?

Think differently (sorry for the subliminal Apple plug)

Instead of just thinking about incidents, also think about: the positives, collaborative meetings and discussing the possibilities not just the issues. Think about how suppliers:

  • Might have a better knowledge of your industry trends than you do.
  • Can help you develop your ideas. You never know, they may already have the answer to that problem you’ve so far been unable to solve.
  • Can make your life easier by managing more of the day to day operations, leaving you to concentrate on your strengths.
  • Are more than happy to help you drive out savings, but would maybe appreciate a share of the spoils.

Then try this:

  • Pick a key supplier, one that should be aligned with your strategic objectives.
  • Identify the supplier’s account manager (suggest they find one if not already available).
  • Set time aside to really talk undisturbed - not a corridor encounter or cafeteria coffee.
  • Develop an agenda (maybe use the first meeting to discuss what’s needed). Suggestions:
    • An update on your company’s goals for the next year.
    • An update from your supplier on their aims for the next year.
    • Provide the supplier with concrete business feedback - not an opening to detail the number of P1 incidents, leave that to the service managers.
    • Ask your supplier to identify areas they have seen where improvements could be made.
  • Make it clear this is not a meeting for a plethora of formal presentations and is certainly not for the sales pitch.
  • Consider letting your supplier out of the IT cage and taking them for a walk through the business, meet key stakeholders, letting them hear at first hand the opinions (good and bad) on the service they are providing that only you normally hear.

Above all else, build a relationship and establish regular contact. This is not a one off exercise and is definitely not about onerous, weekly meetings. Try quarterly updates - just focus a little more on the people involved and less on the tools and processes.

Letting suppliers really get to know your organisation and business drivers could be invaluable. Did you know that 65% of senior managers are more productive when in a collaborative relationship with a supplier? - Sandy made that up, but you never know; if you are a supplier reading this, YOU could always make the first move.

My thanks to Sandy for providing the above content and hopefully enticing others to think a little differently about their suppliers. Comments? Thoughts? Coffee?


Posted by Stephen Mann

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