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IT purchasing: Who decides what tech to buy?

Mary K. Pratt | Oct. 3, 2013
When it comes to hardware, software and services, IT always knows best. Or maybe not, says a new breed of procurement specialists.

Those sourcing professionals know how to research vendors, negotiate contracts and determine values in deals, he says. IT knows what it needs from a piece of equipment or from a service provider and will set parameters for sourcing to follow.

That said, there is flexibility to the partnership, Zupnick explains. Because the requirements on some items, such as laptops or printers, are clear-cut and information on vendors is plentiful, sourcing can work more independently on those purchases. IT plays a larger role for technology that's less commoditized, such as customized software or equipment made by small vendors that don't garner a lot of reviews.

IT and procurement recently worked together on contracting for a new property management system, a key business process for the company. The team developed a vendor shortlist together; procurement vetted the vendors from financial and operational risk perspectives. Once the vendor was selected, procurement took the lead in negotiating the financial component of the licensing and customization agreement.

Zupnick advises that organizations also involve their legal departments, too, to make sure contracts accurately reflect whatever deals are negotiated and protect both parties' interests. As he sums up: "A good negotiation is when everybody is happy with it."

IT still knows best?
For all the enthusiasm from IT pros like Zupnick and procurement specialists like Lee, not everybody is onboard with such partnerships. Cynthia Farren, a Walnut Creek, Calif., consultant who specializes in software asset management, says some organizations are indeed moving toward this team approach for IT procurement, but most companies still handle IT procurement either entirely in IT or entirely in a corporate procurement office.

"There are very few who have had the maturity to see that they need both sides," she says.

And then there are IT leaders like Brian D. Kelley, CIO of Ohio's Portage County, who is somewhat skeptical of the idea of a separate procurement expert — at least when it comes to departments as small as his.

With an eight-member IT team, Kelley obviously does not have a separate procurement person; IT purchasing decisions fall to him and two others within his department, which commands a $1 million annual budget and serves 1,300 employees.

Although he acknowledges that some purchases, such as printers or desktop computers, could be handled outside of IT, Kelley says he wants his IT department involved in buying IT equipment and services so it can ensure two things: That the selected vendors can deliver on all requirements; and that contracts address the various scenarios that can affect delivery.

"I think that IT departments have to have in-house the skills and expertise to be able to manage vendors, manage contracts and manage the procurement process," says Kelley, also an active SIM member. "We can't rely solely on others outside our department to manage that because technology is so unique."


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