It is often too easy to blame an external vendor when IT projects go awry, when in reality poor internal governance is often a major contributor to project failure.
Customers and vendors share responsibility for the success of an engagement. For any outsourcing relationship to be mutually beneficial, both parties must be prepared to be ‘managed’ by the other.
Customers can play their part by creating an environment of mutual respect, trust, transparency and collaboration, removing roadblocks for the project team and eliminating any ‘political’ issues that can emerge between consultants and full-time employees.
For their part, vendors should pass on their knowledge and skills to the customer’s internal team so they can manage and maintain the new system or infrastructure when the project ends.
Look at the big picture
In today’s IT contracts, there is a tendency to focus on technical details rather than outcomes. This is becoming especially true as IT is increasingly offered ‘as a service’ through cloud architectures.
But when contracting a courier service, we don’t ask for the details of the trucks used, the routes they take or what kind of fuel they use.
Similarly, customers should consider the big picture when it comes to IT services.
They should concentrate on outcomes and solutions, rather than being highly prescriptive. This way, IT providers can offer more innovative services that may not have even occurred to the customer.
It’s important for customers to communicate clearly and honestly with their vendors.
Don’t make assumptions; by clearly stating what is expected of the project right from the beginning, the outcome will be more satisfactory for both parties.
During the engagement, customers can control the scope by giving regular feedback to the project team.
As the project progresses, changes to the original requirements will be inevitable.
To account for this, put in place a change management plan that describes how any changes to a project’s original scope will be accommodated, such as whether it will be implemented or deferred to a future date.
Success starts from the top
There is a better chance of success if a C-level executive is appointed to sponsor and champion IT engagements.
Most significant IT projects are actually about changing the business, so business leaders must participate in the project. The business leader most affected by the change is accountable for the engagement – it should not reside solely on the shoulders of the IT team.
There must also be very clear ownership, accountabilities and responsibilities in technology-related matters.
Customers should have a clear IT governance framework in place that determines who makes IT-related decisions, how those decisions are made and the processes that surround this activity.
Preferably, this framework clearly binds IT and the business, with business leaders actively participating in decision-making processes.
Former Westpac chief technology officer Sarv Girn recently argued that customers could more effectively manage long-term outsourcing engagements if they established a multi-disciplinary unit called the Vendor Management Office (VMO).
Vendors need – and want – to be well managed by their customers to ensure successful outcomes, so we can go on to do more business with each other.
I think I speak for all IT and communications outsourcers, and all companies that provide hardware, software or IT services, when I say we welcome any move by customers to put in place more effective governance systems to manage vendor relationships.
Bob Hayward is the Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at CSC Australia and CSC Asia.