Friday, November 14, 2008

When CxO's and Vendors Meet it's not Good News for IT

This is a given when it comes to short-term issues. You know: CxO comes in and says something unintuitive like "I just met these really cool SAP guys at the golfing conference and they think we should (fill-in-the-blank)". That's been a huge pain for years. Wasted work and wasted budgets. Although, to be fair, I've seen IT folks do some pretty major stupid things to business profitability as well.

But things are changing. The economy is actually making a lot of executives rethink their technology pain points and share them with vendors. As if vendors are there to really ease their customer's pain. No my friends, they exist solely to earn revenue and meet quotas. Commission is king. The vendors are listening more intently than ever before. holding the CxO's hand, patting their back, handing them tissues as they sob about credit woes and cancelled orders. "There, there. It'll be ok. Our new version of Product X 2008 will help you fix all that bad stuff. Just sign right here."

The new mantra is all about cutting costs. I'm referring to cutting in ways not seen ever before in the IT economy. Way beyond cancelled projects and training classes. Beyond cancelled upgrades or hiring freezes. One chief concern being voiced to the sales pukes is "we spend a lot on staff, especially things revolving around product specialization.".

Expertise is expensive. Not just the training and exams, but competitive salaries for recruiting and retension as well. And many infrastructure products require multiple bodies to keep them running. This has always meant job security and professional respect for us IT weenies. However, many CxO's see this as a bad thing. It tips the balance of power away from management. They feel like a victim. Like that sinking feeling of getting the bill for a 3 A.M. Plumbing emergency.

What seems to be gathering momentum is pushing vendors to make their products easier to learn and use. Easier enough to lower the expertise bar and pave the way for hiring at lower salaries and requiring fewer certs or years of experience. The obvious pushback from vendors is the revenue frenzy (training, consulting, certifications, add-ons, partners, etc). If the products are too simple they fear the perception will drive costs too low and cut out revenues from training, support, exams, and the whole food chain those entail.

Still, with IT budgets heading for some of the toughest times ever seen, customers will have the upper hand in negotiating their wants with vendors. Vendors may end up doing anything necessary to keep certain high profile customers content. They say that already, but soon it'll be time to ante up or go bust. The proof of whether or not this momentum has any impact will the language vendors use in their marketing. If it swings more towards "simple" and "easy" it may mean this is taking effect.

My 9-year old son put it right, about a year ago actually: After answering his question about what I do for a living, he picked up on how often I mentioned "automation". He said "so, your job is really about making your job go away?". Ouch. The truth is often painful.

We've all felt that way at times, but now it appears that upper management might want to light the other end of that candle and burn it up faster. As always, the trick is to make yourself needed. This has never been more true.

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