Is it worth it to be a reference account for a vendor? Jim Honerkamp thinks so.

John Soat, Contributor

September 7, 2007

2 Min Read

Is it worth it to be a reference account for a vendor? Jim Honerkamp thinks so.Honerkamp is the CIO of The Hillman Group, a $400 million hardware parts supplier in Cincinnati. He's also a reference account for Information Builders, the New York business intelligence tools vendor, which is how I got to talk with him.

The relationship has worked out pretty well, Honerkamp says. "I've been a hell of a reference for IBI," he says. "For a mid-sized company, we're doing some pretty sophisticated things with that tool. In return they provide us with good service. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours -- you know what I mean?"

Honerkamp came to The Hillman Group as CIO three years ago, when upper management realized they needed to "reinvigorate" the company's IT strategy. At that point, Hillman's IT architecture consisted of IBM AS/400s, a DB2 database, and green-screen applications.

"My mission was to reinvent IT," Honerkamp says. "And I wanted to make my mark as quickly as I could." He determined that three technologies would contribute to a radical makeover: A Web portal, a collaboration tool, and a consolidated reporting tool.

Job one was convincing management to spend the money. "My first six months were basically a sales role," he says. But management had already had a "change of heart" about the need to invest in IT, which was what brought Honerkamp to Hillman to begin with. "Once I presented the strategy and the cost associated with it, they bought into it," he says.

So he brought in IBM's WebSphere technology for the Web portal, Lotus Domino as the collaboration platform, and Information Builder's WebFocus as the business intelligence tool. Because one of its strengths is working with "legacy" systems and disparate data sources, WebFocus in particular helped him deliver a sophisticated consolidated sales reporting tool relatively quickly. "I didn't have time to build a data warehouse," he says.

Also, Honerkamp was able to snatch a WebFocus expert from Information Builders itself. "He was tired of traveling," says Honerkamp. "He came in as a senior-level developer. Now he's my ERP project manager." Since then Honerkamp has hired two more developers out of IBI. Is Information Builders upset with him for that? No, says Honerkamp, because of the mutually beneficial relationship.

So, is it good thing for a CIO to be a reference account for a vendor? What are the expectations -- on either side of the equation? And is the trade-off worth it for both parties involved?

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