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The Nuance of Language and Effective Vendor Management

ALS_David_England
by David England

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That’s what the swashbuckling character Inigo Montoya says in the 1987 cult movie The Princess Bride, in response to the villainous Vizzini’s repeated and incongruous exclamations of “Inconceivable!

While comically captivating, Inigo’s observation holds a potential lesson for executives struggling to implement standardized and consistent processes in a complex, multi-vendor environment. Namely: words have meaning, and it’s inherently risky to assume that all people understand words in the same way.

Consider a standard hierarchy of vendor management. The operational governance layer at the base of the pyramid comprises day-to-day activities related to service delivery—identifying, tracking and closing incidents and problems, responding to and implementing change requests, resolving problems and collecting and reporting data. A seamless, end-to-end, outcome-based delivery model requires that all of the myriad providers involved in the chain of service delivery are on the same page when performing these activities.

The good news is that the ITIL framework provides needed guidance for a common understanding around the daily activities of incident, change and problem management. And service providers without exception adhere to ITIL guidelines. That said, ITIL describes what has to be done, but not how. That subtle distinction leaves the tiniest bit of wiggle room for interpretation. Indeed, different vendors have different flavors of how they log, track, report and resolve an incident or handle a change. It’s not that one flavor is better than another, it’s simply that they’re different.

Therein lies the problem: If repeated and multiplied thousands of times a day across multiple providers and multiple processes and activities, these slight differences can undermine the underlying foundation of operational governance, as well as compromise the strategic layers of management higher up the pyramid.

To avoid this scenario, client organizations must take ownership of achieving a truly standardized understanding of operational governance processes and ensure that all providers involved in service delivery are truly on the same page. This responsibility goes beyond checking off an “adhere to ITIL” box. Rather, clients must apply the discipline needed to identify the nuanced differences of how Provider A manages an incident versus Provider B, and clearly define the standards to be followed.

Revealing and reconciling these subtleties of language can be an arduous and painful process, but it can yield significant benefits in terms of true outcome-based service delivery, plug-and-play capability and provider collaboration.

About the author

David England offers more than 25 years of experience in information technology outsourcing with extensive experience in vendor management, change management advisory services. He has provided outsourcing advisory services for a number of clients supporting RFP development, provider selection retained organization design, vendor governance and obligation management.