Globally, the higher education sector alone was expected to top $US38.2 billion last year, according to Gartner research, with Australia slated to spend $1.7 billion on technology products and services during 2016.
For as much as it spends, however, the local education sector can be a highly discerning and, occasionally, downright choosy customer for the unsuspecting IT partner.
For Mike Day, chief information officer at the University of Sydney – the country’s first such institution – finding the right IT provider to work on a project with can come down to shared goals, or at least a clear understanding of what drives Day and his team.
“We’re particularly interested in working with partners who understand what we’re about, understand our business and get where we’re coming from,” Day said. “That’s vitally important for us, and for a number of reasons.
“One reason is that we need suppliers to come to us initially, and work with us to become true partners by being able to tell us where it is that their solutions add value in the context of our mission.
“The other aspect of it is realising that, while we recognise they need to earn a crust, every dollar we spend on suppliers is a dollar we’re not spending directly on education or conducting research. We really need them [partners] to come and think about the value that they bring to us,” he said.
There is also a third piece to the puzzle, according to Day, and that is the partner’s ability to add value beyond just the immediate commercial arrangement or solution that the university is expecting of it or, more broadly, asking of the market.
“That might manifest itself in any number of ways,” he said. “It might be that some of our larger partners have opportunities for graduate interns, or that we can work with in other ways to provide really high quality graduates who might be able to help their businesses out in other ways; or they might be up for sponsoring research.”
Potential perks for graduate students aside, Day and his team predominantly look for partners that fundamentally understand the business problems the university and, specifically, its IT department, are trying to solve.
When Day and his team begin a partner selection process, they will often draw a judgement from partner questions directly, or through a procurement process, about whether they have completely understood the business problems that needs to be solved.
“If they don’t understand those business problems it’s largely irrelevant that they’ve got a good project plan and all those things,” Day said.
While Day appreciates a partner he trusts coming to him with an innovative solution he may not have considered, he usually finds a hard-sell approach an instant turn-off. Likewise, partners who offer the world, but can’t deliver on their promises are unlikely to get repeat business.
“One of the biggest things that disappoints us is when a supplier claims to have capabilities it doesn’t have,” he said. “We would much rather someone say to us, ‘we can’t do this,’ and back out than lead us along and then find out late in the initiative that it’s not going to deliver.”
In fact, a partner pulling out early in an honest and professional way is much more likely to preserve a relationship with Day and his team, than a provider that chooses to string the university’s IT apartment along.
This story originally appeared in the February issue of ARN Magazine - to subscribe, click here