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Users Leverage Vendors

When Ralph C. Barber, the CTO of Holland & Knight LLP, looks for high-priced IT advice, he doesn't hire consultants. Instead, he makes use of expertise he finds with his vendors.

"I can't afford a certain level of competence," he acknowledged in a presentation at Storage Networking World Thursday in Orlando. "And even if I chose to, I could only afford it for awhile. We rely on partnerships with... our vendors."

Barber says he gets a couple of valuable things from his storage-vendor partnerships, including information on best practices and the chance to influence product development. In return, he and his staff do beta testing, provide input for vendor developers, and give testimonials at tradeshows and in white papers.

Barber's approach is a fairly standard one in the world of IT. But the growing importance of storage and the proliferation of small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) looking for products begs a review. What makes for a good vendor-consumer relationship? Can small firms expect the same results as big ones?

When it comes to good partnerships, most consumers agree the actual purchase of products is only the start. "In my mind it is really the difference between a purchase and a relationship," writes David Silversmith, CTO of Carfax, the online vehicle history company, in an email:

    In one scenario I purchase a good or service from you and that is the extent of our relationship. My goal is usually to push you to the lowest possible price and be done with it. That's an approach that, in my mind, works when you are buying a commodity - toilet paper, tissues, gasoline etc. A relationship can offer much more than that.
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