IT Vendors: A CIO's Adversaries or Allies?

By Larry Bonfante

It amazes me the way some CIOs treat their vendors. I totally get the need to negotiate good terms for your organization (as any vendor who has done business with me can attest). I also understand that you need to hold your vendors accountable for delivering the value for which you are paying. However, many CIOs try to squeeze the last penny of margin out of a deal and use their contracts with IT vendors like newspapers that they roll up to smack them over their noses.

I have seen many scenarios where members of my vendor community are directly delivering services to my end-user clients at the U.S. Tennis Association. My clients don't know (or care) about where these people work. They only know that "Larry sent them." Therefore in a very real way the employees of my vendor community are an extension of my team and we work very hard to treat them as such.

First of all we ensure that members of our vendor teams are "drinking our Kool-Aid." We make sure that they understand our mission. We ensure they understand the kind of culture that we are aspiring to achieve and the way we expect people to play the game. They know what outstanding customer service means to me and what our success looks like.

Early in our relationship with vendors we try to not only help them understand our environment but also get them excited about our mission. We invite them to play in our summer tennis league to feel a part of the team. We invite them to team meetings where they can learn more about our business objectives.

The way you treat vendors also is reflected during times of challenge. The first time something goes wrong do you find yourself in a finger-pointing contest? Or do you calmly engage in a dialogue that focuses on how "we" can work together to solve the problem? Do you hide behind vendor issues and try to use them as an excuse for poor service delivery? Or do you take full accountability for their actions and decisions? Is the only time you engage with your vendor executives to complain? Or do you also share your appreciation for outstanding results?

Our goal is to turn our vendors into strategic partners who help us drive value for our organization. At the end of the day you hired them, so it's on you to make this arrangement work for all involved.

About the Author

Larry Bonfante is CIO of the United States Tennis Association and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@

This article was originally published on 08-17-2012