It's a well-established protocol: People buy from people, especially the ones they like and trust. CIOs are no exception, and many benefit greatly from long-established supplier relationships. But there's a fine line between healthy and unhealthy interactions, a risk that's exacerbated by a limited amount of love (and budget) to divide across a countless landscape of courters.
Today's best CIOs create value in large part through the introduction of innovative capabilities, speed, and flexibility -- all of which are completely shut down when supplier relationships dictate the IT strategy. Even worse, with so much future revenue and success relying on a solid foundation of technology for success, these situations jeopardize the viability of the entire organization.
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Yet so many IT leaders have fallen prey to inclusion in a portfolio of superspecial customers that receive extra attention or support. There are benefits, no doubt: The fast access to decision makers can expedite an opportunity, remedy a bad situation, or provide market intelligence, all of which can yield true business value.
But those benefits become liabilities when the relationship begins to look like much more than business -- and by "more," I'm not referring to a steak dinner or birthday cards. I'm referring to helping a client's teenager get accepted to a specific college, providing transportation on the company jet, or even "arranging" family vacations. It happens every day on many levels.
When it does happen, what's instantly broken is organizational and personal trust. In the end, these favors and others rarely stay a secret; they become the juicy chatter and fodder relayed at sales conferences, kickoff meetings, and industry events.
It's a shame that common sense can't win the day and temper potentially damaging behavior, but human nature is a strong pull -- and it's not restricted to CIOs. Very often, it's a direct-report manager or executive in the IT organization with signature and budget authority that steps over the line -- leaving the CIO both surprised and completely unprepared to face the issue when surfaced. This has massive repercussions when it's time to competitively bid services, make a transformational infrastructure move, or even secure a CIO position at another company.