In IT together

In today's IT-driven world, enterprises need more than products. They require skills, access to new technologies, and trained staff. To meet these demands, vendors are attempting to remodel themselves, offering more than mere commodities.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 5, 2005

|~|PHOTO-1---Le-Roux-BODY.jpg|~|Le Roux — “We are keen to act as trusted advisors to clients, offering a complete service and delivering solutions that make sense within their business.”|~|In the past, IT vendors have always been thought of as just that — vendors. If an enterprise needed a basic commodity such as PC service or software, it turned to a vendor, presumably the one offering the best product for the best price. The vendor relationship was simply a transaction that required a company’s procurement people to review bids and process invoices. Having realised the value of good customer-supplier relationships in the current rapidly changing global economy, however, several of the major vendors are now endeavouring to change their image. Companies such as HP, SAP and Cisco Systems are rapidly reinventing themselves as “service providers”, providing advice and expertise alongside the traditional technology offerings. “We are keen to act as trusted advisors to our clients, offering them a complete service and delivering all, and only, the solutions that make sense within the parameters of their business,” says Yvon Le Roux, vice president for the public sector at Cisco Systems EMEA. To become more customer-friendly, systems vendors such as IBM and HP, for example, have repackaged and re-priced the computing power of their products to offer more cost-effective, on-demand services. Low-cost competitors like Dell are augmenting their phone and online support with greater on-site and remote management services and software firms such as Oracle and SAP are looking to restructure their traditional licensing agreements and re-architect their products so they can sell and deliver hosted application and database services. “Providers need to reinvent themselves almost continuously, demonstrating clear specialisations that appeal to potential clients,” confirms IDC’s Philip van Heerden. These newly reinvented service providers are keen to build a lasting bond with their corporate hosts; they provide staff and project management for technology deployments and offer assistance with long-term strategic planning. They have forsaken the "V" word in favour of a new designation: that of “partner”. HP, for instance, believes that partnerships are the surest way of guaranteeing customer satisfaction. The company says the services offered at its HP Invent Centres have been developed to offer unique value to enterprises, supporting customers through all phases of the innovation process from assessing requirements to planning a solution. “Each service has been designed to help with a particular aspect of exploring and discovering new business ideas. The choice of a particular service or set of services should depend upon the customer’s particular needs,” explains Joseph Hanania, HP Middle East’s managing director. “It’s about putting control over innovation back into the hands of the customers, and enabling true partnerships,” he says. Sceptics may argue that this manoeuvring towards more customer-centric business models does not constitute a genuine commitment to customer satisfaction and is little more than another clever sales pitch from vendors. Cisco’s Le Roux is adamant that the vendors’ intentions are honourable, however. “We have to protect our profit margins, of course. But if our customers aren’t happy with the service they receive from us, they won’t come back. This is obviously bad news for our business in the long-term. A more customer-centric model makes sense for us, and for the customer,” he points out. “Ultimately it all just adds value for the customers.” Relationships such as joint ventures and alliances can indeed be mutually beneficial to customers and providers. It is the customer, however, that usually stands to benefit most from good relationships, and suffer worst from bad ones. For this reason, many IT managers remain cautious, and for good reason, according to Richard Stockdale, CEO of Lloyds TSB Global Services Private Ltd. Stockdale still urges caution when it comes to striking up relationships with IT suppliers. “It is important to always keep in mind that the selected vendor will essentially be servicing your company’s customers,” he advises. “Is this something with which, considered from a 360-degree viewpoint, you feel happy for the vendor to be entrusted?” ||**|||~|PHOTO-2---Hanania-BODY.jpg|~|Hanania — “It’s about putting control over innovation back into the hands of the customers, and enabling true partnerships.”|~|In fact, businesses in the Middle East do appear to be quite willing to turn to IT vendors to deliver the skills and services they require. The current broad-based shift from technology-driven to service-led business means enterprises require not only the latest technologies, but also experienced experts to assist them in the deployment and development of business-critical applications and appliances. The Emirates Group, for example, has chosen to work “in partnership” with Cisco Systems to implement a new 10 Gigabit Ethernet data centre network at the Group’s operations headquarters in Dubai. Emirates says Cisco's phased vision of an intelligent information network has helped the Group build a clearly defined roadmap to evolve towards a virtualised infrastructure. Cisco will also provide advanced services support to the airline throughout the project deployment plan. According to Nigel Hopkins, executive vice president of service delivery for the Emirates Group, the airline’s IT team, like many enterprise IT departments in the region, was under pressure to deliver systems and provide IT services to support accelerating product delivery cycles, increasing customer expectations, and changing business requirements. Hopkins found that collaboration with a vendor helped the Group to overcome these challenges. “Our work with Cisco will help stabilise both operational and capital expenditure,” he says. Other CIOs agree that they are grateful to vendors that are able to go the extra mile and provide assistance above and beyond the usual product packages. Mohammed Yousif Terier, systems support for IT at Qatar General Electricity and Water Services, explains: “We used to just be the people you called when something broke,” he says. “IT is a service to the organisation now and to provide the service required of us we have to understand the business needs. Now, CIOs have to think business but execute technically, and a good relationship with a good vendor can be a real asset in achieving both these goals.”||**||

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