With so many disruptive suppliers and business models coming into focus for enterprise IT groups, and so much scrutiny on performance management, there is hope. Many CIOs are taking cues from their procurement, marketing, and financial peers, mitigating the "too close for comfort" situations through objective review -- and gaining the subsequent flexibility to explore alternatives.
First and foremost, smart CIOs are overhauling their approach to supplier performance management, both internally and externally. It may sound simple, but this is a great time to validate or rewrite the terms of partnership success and the focus of your investments by team members. Make sure the objectives, measures, and checkpoints associated with your suppliers are aligned to the business need.
More often than not, the intents and purposes defined at the beginning of a relationship are now dated and have changed. Poorly performing suppliers will find it hard to escape a conversation about business value, and good performers will be thrilled at the opportunity to add more. This strategy review will also help unearth any unnatural relationships.
Another way to ensure a healthier relationship is to diversify -- not just in terms of suppliers but also the relationships in your organization. For example, where possible, give your IT outsourcing vendors airtime with the leaders that represent key functions dependent on the solutions the vendors deliver. You'll get bonus points for this on both ends, and you eliminate some of the opportunity for the relationship to become insulated and far removed from broader governance. Most important, you'll gain insights and intelligence from peers that can raise a red flag early and often if needed.
Other CIOs are uplifting the governance game via committees of their peers -- again leveraging the supplier's service or product as the catalyst for a broader business review. Marketing can be a great friend in this endeavor; it's likely that most of your current IT suppliers affect the marketing staff substantially and warrant an investment of its time. Involving the procurement group is another easy decision, given its focus on cost performance and risk mitigation. Again, it's about diversifying the risk and putting extra eyes on the supplier and, indirectly, your internal decision makers.
Not all supplier relationships step over the line -- in fact, the majority doesn't. Business relationships should be more than numbers and include both a healthy level of social partnership and a strong model for mutual benefit. Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut gives us the best idea for guidance when he wrote, "The chief weapon of sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was too late, how heartless and greedy they were."
This article, "Cozy CIO-vendor relationships are more dangerous than ever," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read Michael Voellinger's Smart Leader blog each week for insights on managing IT in the modern era. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.