Vendors bypass IT execs, pitch to biz chiefs

CIOs and IT departments find themselves in the slow lane, bypassed by vendors racing to capture new sales in a market where IT sales remain subdued.

Rather than deal with the critical scrutiny of an enterprise's IT department, vendors are now attempting to establish favourable relations with almost any other business unit, be it finance, sales or operations, sometimes making pests of themselves in the process. Not surprisingly, the tactic is drawing more than a little fire.

An IT security manager for a national food company, who requested anonymity, is fed up with the persistent circus of hawkers that confronts his organisation: "The worst aspect of vendor tactics is nuisance calls. I don't take calls much these days. I stopped about six months ago and my phone is starting to slow down. If [vendors' reps] know you have a need for a specific technology they will call daily - it's like telephone terrorism," he said.

"They target the IT manager rather than IT security (myself), but he knows not to put them on to me; and there is no way they can bypass me for the CFO. His assistant fields the calls and is aware of the need to block them. But [the reps] are persistent. Six months later I will see the same number appear on my handset."

Meta Group's John Brand, senior program director business strategies, confirmed that vendors now had other parts of enterprise executive ranks in their sights.

"You could safely say that every organisation has encountered it. It's that common. I haven't seen an organisation yet that has such stringent internal processes that they will [always] pick the best technology solution regardless of external influences," he said.

Part of the issue, according to Brand, is that many IT executives (and with them IT departments) are cast in a less than favourable light by their executive peers within an organisation.

Vendors know this and milk it for all it's worth.

"More and more if you are working for an in-house IT organisation, you are going to get screwed. The unfortunate reality is that most internal IT organisations don't have the respect of their internal business sponsors.

"One of the reasons for that is that there are so many schmoozy vendors out there selling the relationship over and above the technology solution it's meant to address," he said.

Brand also feels that many IT managers need to pick up their intra-organisational communications skills: "The IT department has to be able to gain the trust of the business it is supposedly supporting. In many cases the technologists are so bound up in the technology that they miss the point of why they are doing what they are doing. That's when the business will go looking for alternative solutions.

"At the moment many IT organisations are simply there to clean up a mess that has been left by vendor relationships that may be very strong, but there's no solutions actually delivered from those relationships."

Rob Durie, executive director of the Australian Information Industry Association, an organisation which represents the interests of IT vendors, was not prepared to comment on the behaviour of the vendor community at large, but confirmed there was as yet no code of ethics governing the behaviour of vendors other than "the law".

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