A common complaint from IT departments and CIOs these days is that other departments and end users are doing an end-run around their traditional evaluation and procurement role by bringing in personal devices for business use or entering into direct contracts with SaaS providers. IT might never even know this is happening until or unless there is a problem. Technology companies have not been slow to recognize the benefits of selling directly to end-users and unsophisticated corporate executives, Apple being perhaps the most prominent, and successful, example; the iPhone has almost single-handedly opened up the enterprise market to the consumerization trend.
Apple, and most companies, have been taking advantage of this wedge between IT and business users primarily through marketing and a casual disregard for enterprise IT concerns. However, some salespeople are apparently taking things a little further, actively reaching out to bypass IT departments to sell to other departments directly, as CIO John Halamka found recently via a letter sent to his CFO, offering him a sweet deal on some fast, highly-available storage that Halamka's IT department inexplicably passed up previously.
This is a somewhat unusual example because it doesn't involve a technology that would seem immediately appealing or useful to non-IT staff. It's not unusual, however, for CFOs to be the ultimate decision makers in business IT... almost half of US CIOs are on a leash held by the accounting department. I don't think that's the reporting structure Halamka is in, but it isn't an unreasonable assumption on the part of the sales rep, and going over the head of a primary procurement agent who doesn't want to listen to a pitch is nothing new.
Halamka finds the tactic despicable but that may ignore a few realities in the current state of Information Technology management. First, this is just what salespeople do; they want to close a deal, they want to talk to someone in the client business who can make that happen. Their entire economic motivation rests on that. Expecting them not to be slimy is like expecting fish not to be wet. It's a tight marketplace and these tactics work often enough to be worth their while. And that's the job; take a moment to examine the proposition in reverse: as the client, would you refrain from talking with the vendor's competition if you thought you could get a better deal for them? Or a different salesperson at the same company, to make the scenario even closer... if they could get you a better price, would you not take it? If you wouldn't, are you really doing your job? The salesperson is in the same position, just on the other side of the table. Relationships and honor still matter, but they don't trump economics.
Second, unfortunately, there are quite a number of IT departments that are poorly lead and function as real obstacles to more efficient business technology that is available in the market today. And CFOs and other executives are not unaware of this; their frustration with technologies they don't understand that are constantly held over their heads by CIOs and IT managers who are threatened by change is exactly what creates the opening through which these sorts of pitches fall. They are hungry for options and they hear about competitors who are doing it all cheaper and faster, and if they are not getting those options from their own CIO, they're going to be receptive to hearing it from salespeople.
And this goes toward answering Halamka's ultimate question, which is, how do you handle such end-runs as a CIO? It takes two to tango here; we are all bombarded with sales pitches all the time, and we disregard them until they strike a nerve. If you are the CIO, you need to dull those nerves in your organization by providing excellent service, opening up options for users, and bringing them into the decision-making processes your department uses. A frequent complaint I hear from CIOs is that users and business leadership don't understand the challenges in IT. Unfortunately, "just trust me" isn't a workable strategy for dealing with this problem, because too many CIOs can't really be trusted. The only answer I have found is to deeply integrate IT and business decision-making, which spreads both understanding and ownership of the various issues that rise out of procurement decisions.