I was inspired to write this article on the back of a question asked on the Back2ITSM community by William Goddard which was...
I think the answer to the question is obvious, but we can explore it by looking at the role of a vendor in a niche industry. Firstly, and most obviously I think, vendors do not choose to lead with ITIL, Pink Verify or anything else. The buying public chooses, and vendors simply make and sell what they are asked for. The problem with niche markets like the ITSM space is there are different parties, with different agendas, and for the most part they are in conflict with each other.
- The Customer Organisation – needs improved efficiency and better ROI on its investments. They don’t care how it is done, and often don’t know what they need to do either. The command from above is ‘get it done’ and they want demonstrable results, measured essentially in reduced costs/increased business value.
- The Buying Customer – for the sake of this example, is the IT department and/or the people directly responsible for running IT Service within the organisation. They are under pressure to succeed by showing business value, with a backdrop of serious completion from consumerisation of IT, BYOD and cloud providers. They’re following an IT strategy, which often doesn’t dovetail with a business strategy. They don’t really know what to do and things move so quickly they are looking for help and guidance, so often tune into the next ‘silver bullet’ that has traction and early success.
- The ITSM Influencers – the people who guide the industry; experts, authors, pundits, bloggers, consultants, analysts, training and certification organisations…independent trusted advisors.
- The Vendors – the people who have deliver the tools that balance the needs and wants of the customer with ever-changing requirements, to deliver efficiency and lasting value that justifies the significant expense of their ITSM investments.
With the definitions out of the way, let me explain some of the behaviours I’ve witnessed, and forgive me if I hit a nerve or two along the way.
Let’s start with the Organisations. They are absolutely right - IT is expensive, often inefficient, and more often than not, struggles to demonstrate business value. Over the last 15 years, whilst ITIL has enjoyed prime-time, technology has changed radically, and the security that surrounds it is placing a larger burden on IT. Don’t get me wrong, security and privacy concerns should be taking centre stage, but there’s a cost, and the greater the demand for better protection, the higher that cost will be. Security teams now carry more weight than any other IT group, and that’s the biggest change that I’ve observed in the last 20 years.
Once you are past the organisational governance and procurement, let us talk about The Buying Customer. Customers ask for ITIL, so vendors create solutions around it, and many lead with it. Vendors are in the business of selling products, so market forces of supply and demand are what apply here, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If customers consistently asked for a service desk tool that included a IoT coffee maker, trust me, vendors will start to provide it. If we accept this notion, then we have the answer to the question “Why Does a Vendor Lead with ITIL”. Perhaps a more interesting question is “Why DO Vendors Lead with ITIL?”
The ITSM Influencers – If buying customers need help, and if influencers in the ITSM community say, “you need to be doing ITIL”, then customers will ask vendors for ITIL? It’s somewhat ironic then, when influencers berate vendors for leading with this. It should be remembered that Influencers have a commercial agenda too. It amuses me when industry pundits say “Vendors should sell solutions to problems and not sell product features.” The implication being “vendors just want to sell products, so shouldn’t be trusted. Instead, you should listen to us, and buy some consulting, education, certification, or get our help during your product selection process, because we’re independent and can be trusted.” If I sound cynical, perhaps I am, but I’m just pointing out that it’s not only vendors that have products and services to sell. Influencers work with vendors too, because vendors have sustainable revenue sources and are often “less good” at talking the talk. Just pick your favourite expert or industry pundit and google them - the odds are good you will find a video, blog or white paper content written by them for a vendor.
On to the Vendors then – it is true, vendors are in the business of selling products/licenses/subscriptions. I make no bones about it, because that’s what vendors do. It’s usually honest and transparent – money for software that delivers productivity. But the assertion that a vendor is not interested in helping customers succeed, is nonsense. With a SaaS, pay-as-you-go business model, that viewpoint is ridiculous. I can’t speak for other vendors, but our motivation is to help customers be successful. Our efforts are often hampered by complex procurement, regulatory controls and 200 page RFI/RFP documents that make it as difficult as possible for vendors to comply, meet requirements, and also deliver real value. Isn’t it time for influencers and the community at large to stop referring to vendors as the “Dark Side” to justify “independent” services prior to vendor selection. To simply trade and exist, vendors have to:
- Make products to meet requirements that customers cannot fully quantify
- Navigate regulatory and governance requirements in a landscape that’s constantly changing
- Deliver consulting, training and education to customers - free of charge - during sales cycles, pre-sales, pilot projects
- Keep up with the latest “shiny things” because customers continuously ask for them.
- Answer the same questions, in the same RFPs – yes that happens…often – and submit a response that’s contractually binding.
- Differentiate with products/features against ‘unknown’ competition. As a side note, in almost all cases, when a vendor is in a competitive situation, and the customer will not disclose who we are competing against, we can generally guess. By the second round of demos, we’re asked for the “shiny thing” that was in another product – so we usually know who we’re up against
- Take the blame. Despite the buying process, independent consultants, implementation process or the day-to-day management of the solution, if it fails, the product is blamed. Everyone else washes their hands of it and moves on to the next project.
Long after the ITIL foundation training is done, when the consultant is gone, and the people who implemented your solution have moved on, as a vendor, we will still be there, supporting you, and doing what we can to help you succeed.
I rarely see an RFP that spells out the business problems that need to be solved. More often than not, it’s a shopping list of features/functionality, often derived from the bits people liked about their existing solution, topped with generic ITSM requirements based on a commonly used template. If customers would just explain the business problems they’re trying to solve, vendors would be in a better position to help.
Vendors sell what customers ask for. Customers ask for the latest silver bullets that the industry pundits are promoting. Customers are told that vendors have an agenda and only want to sell their products, you need independent advice…and round and round we go…
The Hornbill Promotion Bit: I am proud to say as a vendor we do not lead with ITIL. We have to fit within the ITIL box, but we will never allow innovation to be stifled by ITIL dogma. We lead with technology innovations that improve the way our customers work. We listen to concepts and blue sky thinking, but we base our products on practical, tangible things you can touch, see and use every day.
With pay-as-you-go, no contractual tie-in arrangements, the balance of power has shifted to the customer. Vendors want customers to succeed, quite simply because their revenue and long-term sustainability depends on your continued success. In the age of on-premise software, with large up-front costs and long term contracts, the vendor had the edge, and customers had to “sweat the asset” and “justify the spend”. Today, if the vendor doesn’t deliver value, customers can walk away. If you’re a SaaS customer, and you need help, just reach out to your vendor, I guarantee they’ll be highly motivated to do everything they can to support you.