25 Q&As: Why is ‘vendorspeak’ so hard?

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Andrew Fisher, Director of IS, Knight Frank Australia, Melbourne, shares his experiences with Helen Han.

What would you put on a wishlist for IT vendor performance?

IT vendors are an intriguing amalgam to deal with. Over the course of many years I have dealt with a large number, and to be honest nothing really appears to have changed. From my experience working with and managing vendors the basics are still lacking, so my top three wishlist items would be:

1. Managing customer expectations: I would love a dollar for each time I have been let down — I could probably afford to cruise the Carribean for months on end. I genuinely do not believe that (in most instances) the expectations expressed are regarded as onerous or unrealistic. This is particularly evident if you have agreement from both parties upfront; therein lies the dilemma. The rub occurs when it is up to the customer to continually chase, or even harass. I keep asking myself the same question over and over: why is it so hard? Surely it isn’t?

2. Getting to know you: This seems an obvious one, but how many vendors that you are aligned with really take the time to get to know you and your organisation? Surely it is in their interest to understand what your strategies are? Curiously and too infrequently vendors do not take the time to identify what opportunities are on the horizon. It appears that many are only interested in the here and now, not necessarily in the long term. Those that do bother to delve and develop rapport are generally rewarded.

3. Account management longevity: Why is it whenever you are fortunate enough to strike an account manager worth his weight in gold, they always seem to move on?

What was the first computer technology you used (and when)? I’m not certain if this qualifies in the strict sense; however I recall on my tenth birthday circa 1971, a close family friend — an electrical engineer — gave me a present of a prototype of one of the first computer games I ever played. It was a crude wooden box about 10 inches long and 6 inches wide, with wires dangling everywhere. I plugged this contraption into the back of our old (even then) black and white television set.

I remember the whole family staring at this gizmo in amazement as what appeared to be a tennis court appeared on our screen. The tennis court comprised thick white lines representing the court’s baseline and service lines. I remember turning a dial on the contraption and a rectangular tennis “racket” moved and a square tennis “ball” bounced off it. Better yet, a “blip” sound came out of our television speakers each time the racket hit the ball! I think I may have been one of the first computer game addicts, as I chased that square ball around for hours and hours.

Fast facts: Head office: Sydney. Annual turnover: about $50 million. Employees: 1500 to 1600. IT users: 500. IT budget: More than $2 million. Key applications: Lotus Notes, MRI (Management Reporting International); Microsoft Office and Citrix . Key infrastructure — hardware: Compaq (HP) Servers, Compaq (HP) Desktops, Toshiba Notebooks; networking: Novell NetWare v 5.1; Microsoft NT 4; operating systems: Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP.

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