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Why You Cannnot Rely On Vendors For Your IT Strategy

By Dan Woods

Stefan Dietrich is a Technology Strategy Consultant who has held senior positions at several large IT organizations and has consulted to startups and mid-market companies. Stefan recently joined as a contributor. This guest post is his inaugural story.

In an era of consumerized IT and packaged software solutions, increasingly delivered as a service from the cloud, it is tempting to think that vendors can be a good source for your IT strategy, relegating the CTO role to a sideshow. Resist this temptation.

To set technology and policy strategy, companies rely on their CIO/CTOs who in turn often employ dedicated "Technology Strategists". At some companies, these are valuable roles and work extremely well. At others, they don't, and when the cost pressure mounts, the growing impression becomes: technology strategy itself, just like engineering, is something that can be purchased as (or with) a product. This is false.

The role of technology strategy is not to select products from a menu of vendor options. The role of technology strategy is to examine the core business function that a company wants to pursue, and to determine how the path of the business will align with technology developments going forward and the business opportunities the company may take. The strategist must also consider which opportunities will fail, are uncertain, or as yet unknownâ¿¿in addition to considering the aspects of the business that work well with technology today, but may or may not thrive into the future.

Because virtually every business today is an IT business, technology strategy and business strategy are tightly bound, if not synonymous. The role of the technology strategist is therefore as essential as that of the head of the business division that is using the technology.

The vendor's natural inclination is to adopt their technology to your business as it is today, because the vendor is not championing your businessâ¿¿they are championing their own business. The vendor will never tell you to simplify your security policy, in fact, they love complex security rules and winding implementation projects. They might tell you your security rules don't fit with their product. But they will never tell you they've seen the writing on the wall of your industry's future, and it would be best if you threw out an investment in policy or technology that will become outmoded â¿¿ unless of course their offering is a direct replacement for that technology. Even then, the vendor will often make more money adapting their offering to an existing infrastructure than proposing a wholesale replacement, because of the long time scales and the amount of consulting involved. It's simply not in their interest to be "disruptive," because that could mean disrupting their sale or sullying their reputation.

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