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.