Procurement: make it pay to be ahead of the pack

"Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" was a maxim of the industry for many years. While the phrase certainly reflected the...

"Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" was a maxim of the industry for many years. While the phrase certainly reflected the respect - even awe - Big Blue was held in, it was also a wry comment on the "I'd better watch my back" school of IT procurement.

Not only did it draw attention to the reluctance of many IT directors to stick their necks out, it also illustrated the general ignorance of IT among senior managers and directors.

Much has changed, or has it? Certainly, IBM has transformed itself almost beyond recognition from the days when it bestrode the mainframe and PC worlds like a colossus. It is still highly respected, but more as one among equals, each with their own special expertise and approach.

And as computing has moved into the mainstream, it would be impossible to find a senior manager who did not know the names of at least a handful of major IT suppliers.

What may not have changed, however, is the tendency towards conservatism by those responsible for buying IT products and services. Not surprisingly, the phrase "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft" has occasionally been proffered as the mantra for today.

So why should anyone take the risk of being an early adopter of new technology or take a punt on a high-tech start-up? The dangers are many: for example, possible lack of financial backbone leading to the supplier's collapse; the lack of standards and other obstacles to interoperability; the need for re-education of both management and staff - and perhaps, just plain old inertia.

On page 40, Sally Flood takes a look at three companies whose management decided to stick their necks out and be among the first kids on the block with new technologies, products or suppliers.

While none would claim that taking a leading-edge position is the way to an easy life in the short term, all were confirmed in their belief that short-term pain can equal long-term gain in the shape of improved competitive advantage through greater efficiency and greater control over ongoing costs. And all learned valuable lessons which they are happy to share with other Computer Weekly readers.

Being an early adopter will always require the confidence to communicate your innovative schemes to other senior management. There is always the chance things may go wrong. But maybe one day we will hear the maxim: "Nobody ever got fired for taking a calculated risk."

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