Technology Professionals and the Path of Least Resistance - InformationWeek
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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
Commentary
2/11/2019
04:00 PM
Keith Fowlkes
Keith Fowlkes
Commentary
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Technology Professionals and the Path of Least Resistance

Take a fresh look at how your organization sources IT equipment, software, and services. Consider partnering with other IT organizations to gain efficiencies in your buying process.

We have all been there! With the constant crush of projects, budgets, staffing issues and, well, life in general, following the path of least resistance in our technology operations is inevitable. We have established vendors who we do business with on a regular basis for everything from network security to paper shredding. There is just not enough time in the day to make sure you are getting the best price every time.

I made the jump from CIO to a new career in technology cooperatives and consortia a couple of years ago, which has really made me reflect on my learned habits in past operations. My path of least resistance was relying on idle buying habits and not thoroughly reviewing what I was getting from my trusted partners.

Many of my colleagues were on this path as well, and I really can’t blame them for it. They were trying to push through the day and deal with the deluge of work they were facing. It was leadership’s responsibility. It was MY responsibility. In my current role at E&I, a national non-profit, buying cooperative for education, I am focused on helping technology leaders reexamine their buying habits and sources to avoid the path of least resistance.

At one of my past institutions, telecommunication operations were moved to our technology office as a new responsibility. We inherited many years of invoices, billing problems and, in keeping with our vernacular here, “circuit failure.” The telecom industry and its various carriers are immensely complex and confusing for most technology-related people but, for someone who has no knowledge of the technology behind the contracts, it was a thick cloud of fog. It was much easier to sign documents from the carriers and maintenance providers and move on to the next project in the pile. As usually happens, a change in project responsibility incites a deeper review of the documentation and processes used. What we found was a trail of thousands of dollars in billing errors, legacy (and sometimes ghost) circuits and, most alarmingly, overpayments that spanned decades.

By creating collaborations between educational institutions, my eyes have been opened to a new world of opportunities to save money and time by taking a deeper look at what organizations are spending and making sure that their collective buying needs are being addressed. Don’t be fooled into the path of procurement personnel at organizations who say, “I can get the best prices on my own.” I’ve been told by several very frank vendors that, in most cases, you cannot. Procurement professionals have known this for a long time, and today, it is the responsibility of our technology leaders to carry these principles to the next level. It is a component of sustainable technology operations for everyone.

Resellers and OEM vendors love the guarantee of sales volume and planned purchasing schedules. If your organization can band together with other organizations, aggregate spend volume, and communicate with vendors and service providers, the savings can be substantial. After you have a plan, a schedule, and a projected volume, go to your vendors and talk about discount targets. Buying “on-the-fly” is great for convenience and sometimes necessary, but a little planning and collaboration can go a long way to not only lower your costs, but also make your operation more efficient and easier to manage.

How many sources of equipment and services do you have and how long as it been since you have reviewed what you are paying, how you are paying, and WHY you are paying what you pay? Are there ways that you can build an annual review process into your operation that ensures you are getting the best pricing and service from your current vendors? Do you have the option to aggregate your buying through a cooperative, consortia, or alliance contract vehicle with other organizations? Can you create a buying group in your industry if one does not exist?

John Dewey, an American psychologist and philosopher said, “The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made.” Technology leaders have been successful innovating on collaboration, partnerships, and planning in every area, but in today’s IT realm, it is crucial that we focus on sustainable enterprise technology buying and avoid the mental rut.

Keith is a veteran chief information officer serving as CIO for Saint Mary's College- Notre Dame, IN, University of Virginia-Wise and, most recently, Centre College. He is a co-founder and board member of the Higher Education Systems & Services Consortium (HESS) and has ... View Full Bio
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