Our indecision is final
The recent dot-com bust and subsequent slowdown in IT spending has been a tough period for IT vendors and staff the world over. Once at the centre of the corporate universe, IT suddenly became the black sheep of the family.
From failing to perform as required, to over-promising and under-delivering, as well as charging the earth for poorly functioning, semi-solutions, IT certainly earned its time under the dunce cap. However, when it comes to delivering on the potential technology promises, before IT can deliver, it needs a go-ahead from business, backing from executives and budget.
"An obstacle every technology vendor comes up against in the sales cycle is a common inability among corporate leaders to make up their minds," says Don Elliott, sales and marketing director at MIP Holdings.
"In this day and age one would think that making a decision to enhance the functioning of the business and lower costs would not be a difficult task. Unfortunately, given the way many of our large corporations work, making a decision about IT seems to be as hard as it was for a dot-com to make a profit."
Of course, no company can afford to make decisions about the future of its technology infrastructure without careful forethought and planning. Technology vendors understand this and play their part in building a relationship of trust and integrity with potential clients.
Unfortunately, the corporate decision-maker, while realising the company needs to change its IT systems to better support the business, is more concerned with staying out of trouble. Elliott says he has experienced the sales process grinding to a halt after a very positive start because people pass the buck.
The committee of doom
"The first step in avoiding blame is the committee," he explains. "The business or IT leader likes a proposition to improve the company`s infrastructure and business processes, and even though there may be measurable cost improvements to match productivity increases, the decision is diverted to a committee."
The idea behind a committee is to allow the vendor and the corporate sponsor to put their ideas to a few other people to get a balanced, objective view on the success potential of the proposal. The reality, however, is that a committee is there to dilute the accountability - on the occasion a decision is made.
"A decision is rather rare in a committee, since, no matter how honourable the motives are, company politics and personal agendas always get in the way of an objective decision. And, of course, getting people entrenched in an old, comfortable way of doing things to change - even IT people -requires a process such as first finding a four-leaf clover to attach to a drawing board using the needle you found in a haystack."
And this is when consultants come into the picture - if you`re going to blame someone, make sure it`s an external body that makes decisions for your company without having the faintest idea how the business works. That way everyone can innocently express their shock at the millions spent on these experts, the additional millions spent trying to implement their suggestions and the millions spent fixing the mess.
This would then be the point at which companies again go out and ask vendors for suggestions as to what can be done to ensure their IT systems better support the business. Before long, the best suggestions will be sent to a committee for review.
On the other hand...
Of course, not every corporate decision is made in this manner. Elliott has found that many South African decision-makers are simply unable to accept that an IT solution, conceived and developed in SA, can match and even beat the much touted US or EU business applications.
Some think local software at local pricing is simply too good to be true and must have a catch somewhere, no matter how many reference sites prove the contrary. Corporations would rather spend 1000% more on an international product that comes with international consultants and technicians charging $1 000 per hour (each), than opt for a simpler, cheaper, yet totally effective local solution.
Perhaps the reason has to do with business-class trips to Europe or the US to view reference sites in other countries as opposed to lunch and a trip to a local site down the road. Perhaps a business-enhancing software solution is no match for corporate politics and empire building.
"Whatever the reason, local companies waste hundreds of millions per year trying to spruce up outdated software or panel beat international systems into an acceptable solution, ignoring newer, proven local options," Elliott concludes.
"In many cases, having been through the process of delivering a proposal and having it rejected, local concerns find they are invited to do it again in a couple of years after millions of rands have been wasted and the client finds itself in an even worse position than before with IT still not serving the needs of the business. Is it not time to implement some measured accountability to determine what companies are doing with shareholders` money?"