The creation of the Strategic Supplier Relationship Group (SSRG), an overarching organisation set up by 10 of the UK's most authoritative independent user groups, could mark a new phase in the maturity of the IT industry.
The SSRG aims to present a common user voice to suppliers on issues such as licensing, product quality, patch management and dispute resolution.
The group's founders believe that a two-way process of education, advice and troubleshooting can allow user organisations and IT suppliers to create genuine partnerships that maximise business value from IT investments.
The SSRG will be funded by its members and will be independent of suppliers, with each user group communicating discussions to its own members.
The climate around corporate IT usage has changed dramatically since the run up to Y2K and the dotcom boom.
IT departments have come under pressure to produce business value from their investments and are under increasing scrutiny as company boards recognise their dependence on IT and their personal liabilities for IT-related regulatory compliance.
The supplier community has been slow to acknowledge this new world, said Ray Titcombe, chairman of the IBM Computer Users Association and chairman of the SSRG. "Most suppliers talk about partnerships, but too often these have ended up with winners and losers, rather than creating a win-win situation. Both sides need to go forward and function together properly."
A turning point in user/supplier relationships and the catalyst for the formation of the SSRG was the shift in Microsoft's licensing strategy in 2001.
It was not so much what Microsoft did - moving users to a subscription scheme - but the way it was done; giving users just a few months' notice of the changes. Microsoft had not appreciated the budgetary timescales and environments within which corporate users operated, and that in many cases a sudden switch in terms was simply not possible.
In response, the Institute for the Management of Information Systems, the British Computer Society Elite Group and the Society for IT Management wrote a letter of concern to Microsoft, as did the Corporate IT Forum. This was backed by a Computer Weekly campaign which resulted in a worldwide stay of execution for the old licensing regime.
The need for an umbrella group of users was then advanced as a way of tackling similar problems and ensuring suppliers understood the full ramifications of their decisions.
Computer Weekly's involvement started in April 2001 when it hosted a roundtable attended by 22 leaders from 15 user groups to explore ways of leveraging the groups' influence. That meeting proved to be the catalyst for the creation of the SSRG.
The SSRG hopes to build on more recent developments to improve user/supplier relationships. Peter Gershon, the former head of the Office of Government Commerce, has worked with supplier body Intellect to produce a code of best practice.
Last October the Business Application Software Developers Association announced a code of practice to guarantee high standards for software products. More than 100 suppliers, including Microsoft and Sage, have signed up to the code.
Other moves to encourage greater professionalism in IT are being generated by the British Computer Society and the IT security user community.
Gestation of the SSRG has been a slow process, but when it is formally launched on 20 April the body will bring benefits to corporate IT users and to suppliers.
Margaret Smith, chief executive of CIO-Connect, which is not part of the SSRG, said, "CIO-Connect and its members are already trying to positively influence suppliers. However, a greater body of people with a diverse range of interests handling this relationship can only be a step in the right direction."
British Computer Society Elite Group
Charities Consortium IT Directors Group
Charity IT Resources Alliance
Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
Computer Weekly 500 Club
IBM Computer Users' Association
Institute for the Management of Information Systems
Society for IT Management
The Corporate IT Forum
UK Oracle User Group
"IBM's aim is to bring together the best insight, expertise and IT to help clients transform their businesses. Consultation with industry stakeholders is central to that goal. IBM recognises the value of meaningful dialogue with its clients and the creation of the SSRG heralds a new era in this ongoing relationship." Brendan Dineen, marketing director, IBM UK
"I welcome the arrival of the Strategic Supplier Relationship Group, as it will provide a forum for frank and constructive industry debate. Closer collaboration between customers and their suppliers is a crucial factor in ensuring the long-term success of IT projects."
Ian Smith, senior vice-president, Oracle and managing director, Oracle, UK, Ireland and South Africa
"There was a definite need for change in the relationship between suppliers and user groups. It is encouraging to see the formation of the SSRG, which will promote the very best working practices to ensure that users are gaining the most from their IT investments."
Trudy Norris Grey, vice-president and managing director, Sun Microsystems UK
"We welcome the news of the establishment of the SSRG. Microsoft has constructive relationships with a number of the group's founding organisations, and engages in ongoing dialogue with them on many issues of importance to our customers and the general health of the IT industry.
"The formation of the SSRG will enable Microsoft and our partners to engage on a broader range of issues affecting British businesses from all sectors in a constructive environment. We look forward to working more closely with the forum and its members."
Alistair Baker, managing director Microsoft UK and vice-president, Microsoft EMEA
"On behalf of the IBM Computer Users' Association, we are very pleased to be involved with the Strategic Supplier Relationship Group. We see it as an excellent opportunity for our members with multiple supplier installations to have greater representation in the IT supplier world."
Ray Titcombe, chairman, IBM Computer Users' Association
"The UK Oracle User Group is firmly committed to the belief that its members, Oracle and third parties form one economy whose success or otherwise is shared by all. Via the SSRG, we see the opportunity to bring that thinking to the overall IT space for the benefit of companies by highlighting the dependency of all players on the successful exploitation of IT in business."
Ronan Miles, chairman, UK Oracle User Group
"Elite is strongly committed to the creation of an open and constructive relationship between IT purchasers and IT suppliers, which the SSRG will facilitate."
David Rippon, treasurer, SSRG, and past chairman, BCS Elite
"The Charities Consortium IT Directors Group is delighted to be an active member of the SSRG. Our members, IT directors of registered charities, have a strong interest in improving strategic communication with technology suppliers. We see John Rthe SSRG as a means of achieving this - and good deals for charities."
David Clayden, chairman, Charities Consortium IT Directors Group and director of strategic information, the Salvation Arm