Strategic vendors are important to an organization’s success. Yet too often, the most critical vendor relationships are managed tactically, in reaction to events, or focus on what the vendor is delivering, rather than on how the vendor is impacting the business.
“Many IT vendor management leaders struggle to find the right ways to influence their most important vendors to be proactive, collaborative and innovative,” says Joanne Spencer, research director at Gartner. “When managed badly, large strategic vendors can become complacent, slow moving and intractable.”
Managing these relationships requires a strategic approach
Spencer adds that managing these relationships requires a strategic approach if IT vendor management leaders want to change their processes in ways that compel vendors to exhibit partner-like traits as part of their agreed deliverables and metrics. She explains how to do so in three fundamental steps.
Step 1: Data and insight
“Begin by building a holistic picture of the vendor and what it delivers to your organization,” says Spencer. This entails the identification, collection, aggregation and presentation of the vendor profile, performance and market data. There are many tools that achieve this, but focus on four key ones:
- Create vendor profiles that provide relevant market, interaction and performance data specific to each strategic vendor. Update monthly.
- Build dashboards that provide near-real-time updates. They often include tactical data most relevant to understanding a strategic vendor’s performance.
- Use quarterly scorecards to provide a regular update and objective analysis of the most relevant and strategic measures of a vendor relationship. These can include a 360-degree review, for which the vendor provides a customer assessment and recommended improvement actions.
- Prepare vendor risk plans annually, or as often as required by policy or regulation. Plans should provide an overview of vendor risks and the relevant actions taken, or necessary, to reduce residual risks and respond to risk events.
“At this information-gathering stage, it’s vital to ensure the data gathered is reliable,” says Spencer. “Then, when you’re confident with the data and reporting mechanisms, you’re ready to analyze and look for trends that support a discussion with a vendor.”
Step 2: Reviews
The second step is to create the governance framework for how the collected data is communicated with the vendor and across the organization’s key stakeholders. Ideally, this is a schedule of review meetings that are agreed upon at the point of procurement or during the onboarding process. Typically, the schedule will contain the following reviews:
- Monthly operational performance and contract reviews to report on performance against SLAs and metrics. This is also a good time to review vendor solutions to any past performance issues.
- Quarterly relationship reviews to focus on evaluating the long-term strategic value of the relationship, as opposed to the tactical aspects of the monthly reviews.
- Biannual risk reviews to update and refine business continuity and mitigation plans, and report on risks pertaining to the relationship.
- Annual executive review to ensure alignment between the vendor and the client’s goals, as well as a time for senior executives on both sides to build trust and share ideas.
Step 3: Action plan
“Collecting sufficient information and designing processes to review it closely with the vendor have set the stage for extracting more value from the strategic relationship,” says Spencer. “But this will all be of limited value unless you can also ensure broad commitment from within your organization.”
When the process is refined, expand it.
To help build buy-in from stakeholders, build standard agendas that can be used for each review type consistently across all providers. Then pilot the process with one or two strategic vendors. Use these pilots to evaluate the best timing, deliverables and participants, which may vary between vendors and internal stakeholders.
“When the process is refined, expand it across more strategic vendors,” says Spencer. “A slow expansion will demonstrate the value of the process and help you make time to communicate it to stakeholders, who should be drawn from business, IT and even the vendor side in some cases.”