Lead suppliers into partnership

The customer is always right is a commercial tenet more honoured in the breach than the observance. Or so it often seems to IT...

The customer is always right is a commercial tenet more honoured in the breach than the observance. Or so it often seems to IT directors.

A survey by user group the Corporate IT Forum (Tif) shows that nine out of 10 users believe that software suppliers oversell their products and services and create false expectations.

But as Lindsay Nicolle points out in our feature article on page 44, in the long run it is more productive for the user to take the initiative from the outset in ensuring that relationships with suppliers prove effective, rather than berating suppliers for their perceived poor performance after the event.

Being proactive at all stages - from putting out initial feelers through tendering, contract negotiations, installation and support - pays huge dividends, as the case study of the Civil Aviation Authority's outsourcing deal with managed services group Steria clearly demonstrates.

Burgeoning regulation, as described by leading intellectual property lawyer Roger Bickerstaff on this page, has placed massive new responsibilities on the IT department, all of which can have repercussions on overall corporate performance. Meanwhile, the rapid growth of outsourcing has turned the spotlight on the importance of relationship, rather than simply sufficiency of product and service.

Upheavals such as the ending of JP Morgan's outsourcing relationship with IBM and the Inland Revenue's switch from EDS to Capgemini clearly show how frustrations can build to the point where separation - and its inevitable disruption and cost - seem the only way forward.

As in all troubled relationships, the fault rarely lies on one side. It is easy for users to complain about poor services and products from suppliers. But it is more profitable - and builds more respect from business colleagues - for IT directors to seize the initiative in building satisfying and durable relationships.

Microsoft's mountain

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has declared the battle to secure IT systems will never end. The software giant has made real progress on security since Ballmer launched the Trustworthy Computing initiative three years ago. Its products are now more secure, but there is a lot more to do. Users want fundamentally improved security and no delays in the products Microsoft has promised. Ballmer knows the challenge but, even for a company as formidable as Microsoft, it is a huge task.

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