The Big Cheese-Off

The Big Cheese-Off

I took my first cold call within 48 hours of moving into this job. It was an online supplier whose proposal involved my company spending a lot of time providing content to a potential competitor, and her company gaining significant revenues from the deal. Any returns for us were at best marginal.

Of course her version on the phone was a little more sugar coated.

It sounded so crazy I invited her and her boss to a meeting. That involved them driving an hour across town, over the harbour bridge during peak hour and allowed me to waste their time as badly as she was wasting mine.

Subsequently I've had similar calls with increasingly regularity but I tend to be a little more abrupt these days. I'm happy to consider any genuine proposal that might improve our company's well being, even if it means I spend a couple of hours a week attending meetings. It's probably a hangover from my days as a journalist, when I learned, that no matter how daft an idea might sound, everyone deserves five minutes of your time. Fortunes are often found in the strangest places.

I'm lucky because I have a managing director who is smart enough to defer to either myself or the IS department when vendors go directly to him.

Unfortunately he has spent enough time around the IT industry and is just a bit too well informed for my own good. But that's a small price to pay compared to the rude shocks that a rampant and unqualified chief executive can visit on a CIO after a hard session with a three wood on the back nine.

It has become fashionable in recent times for the big end of IT town to pitch directly to the CEO. That's okay as a strategy, but only when its done as part of an overall approach which is inclusive of IT. In recent years SAP led the pack in CEO and CFO selling with tremendous revenue results. And in fairness to SAP, many companies benefited enormously from these projects. For a while SAP was able to boast that it never lost a live account in Australia. Anxious to mimic this success, other vendors adopted this sales model and IS felt itself getting slowly squeezed out of the loop. This approach, particularly by the applications houses provoked angst and anger among many IS professionals who resented having solutions imposed upon them by the technical neophytes in the executive suite.

Then of course came the reckoning - implementations started to hit the wall and those same CEOs started screaming for answers and explanations. Even the previously unassailable SAP struck rock at some of its bigger sites such as Coles Myer and the Superannuation Administration Authority.

The folly of excluding IS from the buying loop became more apparent to vendors who increasingly found themselves baring arms against a sea of troubles in accounts where internal allies were thin on the ground. After all why should IS defend a project over which it had no ownership, shared or otherwise? Now, thankfully, there seems to be a little more maturity creeping into play.

Companies which got rich fast burning bridges with the IS department in their unseemly haste to please mahogany row are relearning the wisdom of that old adage: "Be careful who you step over on your way to the top because you will meet them again on the way back down."Serves the bastards right.

Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications. Why not share your pain with him

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