You purchase various products and services from your vendors. Of course these purchases are in line with your current strategies, based on your capacity planning and strategic decisions. There are still areas that your vendors can assist you in your strategies, expansion plans, operations, costs, which at the end help your business grow.
First, you can ask your vendor about their future plans and their research and development functions. Your IT department is already aware of the developments in the industry and have a knowledge of what is coming. On the other hand, vendors invest heavily in research and development to stay ahead of the curve and bring new products, services and trends to the businesses. You can ask your vendor for a meeting to have a coffee and talk about what they are up to and how these developments can help your business. Vendors will be more than happy to do this because you immediately become a future sales opportunity for them.
When they come to talk with you about the developments, they further bring in their experiences and expertise with the other companies. This is not about disclosing any identifiable information about their clients, which they must keep confidential. But they can offer advice on what they encounter in the field and can also refer someone who has gone/is going through similar challenges. There are many benefits: both IT departments work together to solve the problems, the vendor benefits from the outcome and the vendor becomes a facilitator, who works beyond his ability to solve the problems.
Many IT vendors have industry studies on their own. They regularly make market assessments, perform surveys and keep the pulse of their clients. These studies also indicate what the companies and industries are doing with their IT investments. Sometimes these reports are sold, and sometimes they can be received from the vendors with no charge. You can simply ask your vendor how to read these reports. These reports, even a white paper that is freely available online, can make a tremendous impact in your capacity planning and your future plans.
There is also the return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) figures with any investment. In IT, it is hard to show the benefits of and solution in these figures. Just think about it: how can you calculate the ROI of any computer that is used in a company, for heaven’s sake, just try to calculate the ROI of the computer that is sitting on the desk of the executive assistant. When it is so hard to do that, it is even harder to show these figures for the new storage investment or for the newly deployed application. The vendor’s figures for the ROI and TCO will very much likely to be biased towards the vendor’s solutions or will be calculated under the given “ideal conditions.” Often these calculations can be thoroughly studied and can be reworked to be used in your company as a supporting tool to show the payoff of the investment.
Speaking in monetary terms, every investment has an economic lifetime. Today or tomorrow the time will come to renew the equipment. Instead of making capital investments and dealing with the amortization and depreciation issues, you can work with the vendors who offer leasing options. Since with leasing you do not own the assets, there is no depreciation and no capital investment. Plus the leases become operating expenses. With leasing you can tie some of your IT expenses to your operations and spread your IT spending over time, with the future options of buy-backs and trade-ins.
From a purely technical perspective your IT department can also benefit from the vendors. I have seen so many system administrator colleagues and training participants (both IT pros and users) that blame the vendor when the tool does not solve a specific problem. This is one of the reasons why almost all of the vendors have their own best practices guide. Even some have their own best practices applications. These applications come either free or with a marginal cost. It will pay a lot to follow and implement these best practices during deployment,operations and phase-out stages: your IT department will be more familiar with the product, which will reduce the number of support tickets opened to the vendor, which will in turn impact the scope of the support contract and which will result in fewer problems during the lifecycle of the investment. From an overall perspective, your company will get the best out of the investment it makes.
Along with the best practices, many vendors offer performance tuning and optimization for their products. You can check your contract to see if there is a clause for the tuning and optimization: if there is, schedule it. If not, negotiate for a free provision or a discount. There can be cases when you can receive a free “health check”, which a vendor reports you his findings but takes no action for implementing them. This means you can go over the findings one by one and implement the solutions yourself. And when the next contract renewal time arrives, you can add a tuning/optimization clause for the next period.
You can also outsource your migration to a vendor. If you still have business critical applications running on legacy systems and if the application and/or its code aren’t too customized or aren’t too secret for an outside organization to deal with, you can ask for the migration service to your vendor. That way instead of dealing with the inherent problems of migrations, you can focus on your core IT business functions and let the vendor put in his own expertise on the project.
Large IT vendors also have trade shows and conferences that bring together their technical and sales teams with the users. These shows and conferences enable the people to develop contacts, exchange best practices, ideas and solutions on the products they work with. There is another benefit to that: when you participate in these conferences you have the chance to influence the vendor’s future products. Those companies who choose to participate thus gain even more. Just ask your vendor about the free or discounted tickets to join the conferences.
These are some of the points where I believe your company can get more benefits from your vendors. How are your vendors? What have they done for you? What benefits did you recieve? Share your experiences below.
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