The Seven Sources Of Problems #4 - Your Vendors

The Seven Sources of Problems #4 – Your Vendors. By Robin Yearsley.

The Service and underpinning capability offered by your Vendors is critical to the overall Service you provide to your business.

In most cases the texture of the support landscape is an interesting blend of internal support, outsourcing, traditional support contracts and a shared services methodology. Add into this mix the fact that each Service you provide is supported in a different way, by different folks, with different levels of Vendor support – and you can see how complex an area it is.

The fact is – Vendors are human too – and are prone to the exact same Seven Sources of Problems like any other IT Service Provider.

In this, our fourth instalment of the Seven Sources of Problems, we consider “Vendors” but we re-orientate ourselves and look at Problems from their ‘internal’ perspective: the challenges they face, how they are structured, how they work internally to provide their outside service to you and how well they recognise and close down each of the Seven Sources.

We also approach this article from the perspective that YOU are “leading the way” with instilling the “Seven Sources” model into your Vendors psyche, organizational structure and ultimately in the way they deliver their service into your organization.

[Note - all the other six sources absolutely apply to your Vendors too. Please review the previous days articles and then continue to check-back, to ensure you know about the remaining Six Sources].

So, the focus of this article is about how you can work effectively with your Vendors to ensure that they are taking the appropriate internal actions to prevent the sources of problems from occurring.

Know Your “Vendorscape” – who does what, when, how and for who?

Oftentimes, there is a prevailing attitude that will immediately challenge the premise of working more closely with your Vendors. It usually comes from the CIO and it goes something like this, “I pay for a Service and I expect it to be delivered – therefore I do not care how they deliver it – just so long as they do”.

Now, this is perfectly acceptable and pragmatic, especially in a heavily outsourced Service Operation where the vendor has the lions share of the delivery responsibility and the internal IT / Service provision capability has already been considerably diminished. However, in my experience, there is always a lead influencing role that can be played by the internal Service Provider (or Vendor Manager).

This person, after all, is responsible for the quality of Service provided to the internal business units, and therefore has a responsibility to take positive action on every situation, issue and problem that occurs. Therefore the partnership approach where the Vendor is asked to take preventative action against a particular source of problem is recommended here.

Bear in mind - Vendors are human too.

The quality and relevancy of contracts.

- Contractual agreements should contain enough scope to allow the recipient of the service the option to ask for internal processes to be improved/re-engineered in light of problems experienced.

- Using the Seven Sources Model as a basis for discussion with Vendors can prove highly beneficial. There are three (albeit a bit tongue-in-cheek!) stages of Vendor enlightenment:-

[1] Every Problem is tackled separately and distinctly, limited view of trends, costly!

[2] Aha! These Problems are related to a particular root cause – we can tackle one root cause and eliminate multiple problems!

[3] Eureka! As well as tackle the root cause, I can go ‘upstream’ and tackle the underlying reasons of the source of the actual problem, using this model, and drive down the potential for new problems to occur.

- By carefully prioritising which sources and which aspects to eliminate, close-down or prevent a lot of problems can be prevented.

SLA’s and Vendor Relationships are the major differentiating factor

- There’s an old saying, “You get what you pay for”, but with Vendors you should not ‘pay’ for what you get. Therefore you need to ‘get’ the flexibility, co-operation and buy-in to be able to work with your Vendor and make a difference. Review all your contracts and SLA’s for relevancy - go out to tender to secure a better deal where you find a lack of co-operation, if possible.

- Look for opportunities to influence your Vendors to work more like you do. Invite their key players to your internal briefings, offer to provide some 1-2-1 education session on new techniques, share initiatives (such as excellent Change Control), show the positive results these can have on minimising downtime, increasing people’s active hours on projects and reducing costs of overtime.

Implement a Vendor Scorecard Programme - measure Vendor performance

- Scorecards sound like a real load of hassle and time but a simple and effective scorecard bolted onto your weekly/monthly Vendor Service review meeting can really make a difference.

* How to create a simple, low over-head scorecard that works:-

a. Make a list of, say, six key topics that you wish to review with your vendor.

b. For each of the six topics, list up to 10 key questions that you want answering each week/month.

c. Prior to your review meeting - ask the Vendor to rate themselves and provide background explanations/evidence as to why they answered like they did - and bring this information along to the review meeting.

d. During your Vendor Services review meeting walk through the answers together and discuss the evidence and provide immediate feedback – rating or re-rating the Vendor as you go - using a scale of "0 - no evidence" through to "5 - World Class" and the varying degrees in between!

e. By the time the meeting’s over – you will have a more comprehensive, factually based set of results to guage Vendor performance

f. You can then summarise your ratings in a formal e-mail to record performance. Use these scores and the average over the previous few meetings to form the foundatino for the next meetings discussion. Remember - you are trying to drive improvements backed by sound evidence.

Note:- Ensure that one of the key topics is Problem Prevention and Elimination (not Problem Management – anyone can ‘manage’ problems, the goal is to prevent them!)

Integrate with Vendor’s processes

- For the more advanced Service Provider, how about integrating your processes end-to-end with your vendors so that there is a smooth flow through of information and activity. Roles and responsibilities are known across the process flow. Target times to perform activities and key performance indicators are mutually agreed (and could underpin the Contractual agreement)

- Such levels of integration are only possible with the right relationship, contract and culture – however they are THE most effective in helping your organization prevent problems.

Involve Vendors More

- Final point for today, but a key one. The more Vendors are embraced and made an active part of your organization – the more they will ‘feel’ the responsibility of problem prevention. For example, do your Vendors attend your daily/weekly Incident Post-Mortem meetings? Do they attend your Problem Elimination meetings? Do they actively suggest new approaches to preventing problems? A significant culture shift is often required to enable such a participative approach but the benefits are huge.

Join us tomorrow for Source #5 - "User Error" and learn about how to help your business users 'help themselves' to minimise new Problems.