IT leaders are fed up with their suppliers - why the IT industry needs to change

There is a growing disconnect between IT decision-makers and their suppliers, a communications gap that the technology industry seems to be unaware of, but needs – for all our sakes – to tackle quickly.

We have long talked about the need for suppliers to use less jargon, to listen to their customers better, to not simply push the latest products – but there is a simmering backlash brewing against the industry’s inability to change.

Computer Weekly talks to a lot of IT leaders, and an increasingly common theme from the majority is dissatisfaction with their supplier relationships. It’s not just the usual gripes about service levels, pricing or software licensing – it’s a much more fundamental belief that the industry simply does not grasp the realities of today’s IT department or the role that technology plays in organisations.

HM Revenue & Customs CIO Phil Pavitt expressed such frustrations in words that no doubt many of his peers would echo. “We are the customer,” he said, and then referring to government desktop strategy: “I will never have another salesman talk to me about thin client; that is the IT sector selling me what it wants to sell.”

He went on: “As a slightly jaundiced 25-year IT man, I’m tired of buying concepts sold by vendors,” he said. “Let’s stop buying clichés and sales brochures.”

Cloud computing is a topical example of the problem. IT chiefs have listened to all the hype, and many are convinced this is the way forward. They turn to their suppliers and say, “OK, how do I get all these benefits you’ve told me about – flexibility, agility, pay-as-you-go pricing?” And too many get the response, “Well, you need to buy my product…”

IT buyers want cloud – “by which I mean always on, pay as you go, the day I don’t need it as much I use less, the day I need more I can have it,” as Pavitt puts it. But can their suppliers provide that? Most CIOs are finding the answer is no.

It is true that IT buyers need to be more intelligent customers too – they have to learn how to get what they want, and to explain what they want. But the IT industry needs to change. It needs to learn to listen, to genuinely partner with customers – where “partner” doesn’t mean “sell more products” – and to understand what IT leaders really need. Without this, businesses and the public sector will continue to be hampered in their desire to deliver the IT-enabled change that the UK economy so desperately needs.

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In my experience Cloud services may be "on tap" but the faucet only moves in one direction; to open it further. If you want to lessen the flow, then you are into discussions about contractual periods etc.

In many ways this is not a technical issue, but a legal and commercial one.

From you piece it doesn't seem that much has changes since I penned:

Back in April 2010.

Thanks for the comment Peter - I agree with you completely about cloud being a commercial (and risk ownership) issue for IT leaders and not a technical one - something I wrote about on this blog a few months ago, see here:

A lot of IT suppliers have dug a big hole for themselves - they've sold this great concept of on-demand cloud services, and now that CIOs are saying they want it, the suppliers find they can't actually deliver it. Too many are are still hung up on the product sell - which is precisely what IT buyers don't want.

It has been ever thus. It is a fundamental flaw in the IT supply industry, they dream up new tech without having a clue as to how real organisations, which are not largely staffed by techies, work. And then they show us their wonderful new widgets and ideas, and start desperately looking for ways to apply them in business.

The really sad thing is that so many IT departments buy this junk - they are so disconnected from their own organisations that they don't understand what's really required, they believe the sales hype of new tech that promises many benefits and delivers very few.

The IT supply industry needs to ask itself why so many IT consuming organisations find it necessary to develop so much tech in-house - IT would be so much easier if we could buy what we want instead of what they're trying to sell!
Tell me about it! And yeah I agree there’s a lot of hype, lots of nice shiny new toys! But if Businesses want worthwhile partnerships, IT suppliers who understand them, and that personalised service, surely they need to make an investment. Bit like supporting your local deli as opposed to always shopping in the big supermarket?

As to doing it themselves, yep “IT would be so much easier if we could buy what we want” but that kinda comes back to the partnership, relationship thing – however I also think Businesses can sometimes be short term in their thinking (i.e. too focused on the immediate cost) and as to in-house dev can conveniently ignore hidden (or grey) costs – something as an IT supplier I can’t ignore...

I ain’t suggesting we (IT suppliers) shouldn’t change, learn, better still listen, but it is a two way street – and whilst I’m here I think this kind of subject touches on the UKs IT Skills base and the Nations vision of its role, contribution in the Global economy.