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6 Keys to Working with Vendors in a Next-Gen Enterprise IT World

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As IT departments become “brokers” rather than single-service providers, vendor management skills are becoming paramount. Here’s how two institutions deal with contracts, vendors relationships and more.

When Educause called out “next-generation enterprise IT” as one of its top 10 IT issues in 2017, the higher education technology association also asked members of its advisory board to explain just what’s meant by that. Michael Quiner, CIO at Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College, referenced the scene in Miracle on 34th Street, where Kris Kringle, working as a department store Santa, begins sending shoppers to other businesses that have what they can’t get at Macy’s. “The new baseline for enterprise IT is to anticipate the needs of the institution and look outside the services and systems traditionally found in the IT department,” Quiner explained. “The new goal of enterprise IT is to make the college’s ‘Christmas list’ a reality by looking beyond what our campus already has on our IT shelves and by becoming a broker instead of a single-service provider.”

That role of “broker” is at the heart of adaptive vendor management, calling for skills in management of contracts, relationships and performance. During last year’s Educause Annual Conference, representatives from two institutions — New York University and George Washington U — shared their approaches for working with vendors and laid out how they’re embedding their brokering know-how into the deals their IT organizations cut.

1) Set Contract Management as the Baseline

Both Dana Gangemi, senior manager of contracts and vendors at NYU, and Bill Koffenberger, director of service and contract management in GW’s division of IT, consider contract management a “leading strength.”

“We started off filling a void,” said Koffenberger. “We had a situation where nobody was actually reading the contracts.” The general counsel philosophy at that time was, “If it’s in the contract, it’s not that risky.” Although the university has specific policies regarding “delegated signatures,” Koffenberger noted, the bottom line was that the policies weren’t followed very well. Seven years ago, he “inherited” a box of agreements, and his team began sifting through those with a “paralegal approach” In fact, his first hire was somebody with a law degree who could understand the contract language. Gradually, a highly informal environment began to become “more formal.”

Apparently, that effort didn’t go unnoticed. Nearly three years ago, staff working for the chief financial officer, who acts as the signatory for the institution, began asking Koffenberger, “Have you seen this contract?” His response: “No, it’s not a central IT contract.” Their response: “Will you look it over? He won’t sign it until you do.” Now, the CIO’s sign-off is required for all IT contracts in the university, and Koffenberger’s group sees most them. “We’re a victim of our own success,” he added.

2) Establish Your Vision

Koffenberger and Gangemi place a premium on setting a vision for their work in IT vendor management, an uncommon endeavor for this function within the institution. And both their visions include trying to generate greater value.

In the case of NYU, the vision references a move away from a “processing house mentality” and instead serving as the experts in negotiation, which includes raising questions and holding “both clients and vendors accountable.” For example, said Gangemi, her team will be proactive and reach out to business units before a contract needs renewal. While she doesn’t want her work viewed as a “bottleneck,” she also wants to help those business units understand what they’re buying into. “My own personal mantra: No vendor should ever be comfortable. Whether you’ve been with our university for 20 years or you started 10 months ago, I don’t care.” The value-add comes when business units save money that they wouldn’t have seen if they hadn’t used her services.