The pandemic has elevated the CIO’s role. As a result, technology solutions providers must not only sell what they need but also keep up with how customers want to forge long-term partnerships with vendors.

The pandemic has elevated the CIO’s role. As a result, technology solutions providers must not only sell what they need but also keep up with how customers want to forge long-term partnerships with vendors.

This was the overarching theme during the panel, “The CIO’s Agenda: Inside the Minds of Today’s Most Influential Consumers of Tech,” at last week’s Channel Partners Expo & MSP Summit 2022. The panel was designed to give technology solution providers advice for building relationships with IT leaders at mid-size organizations and large enterprises, who played a critical role in keeping their businesses running during the pandemic.

The CIO and the Chief Security Officer (CISO) were very distinct roles before the pandemic, said Mike Novak, CISO at Seminole Hard Rock Support Services, with the latter focusing on IT security, but the pandemic meant they needed to collaborate closely to enable a global workforce to work remotely, productively, and securely. “Those roles really came together about how we’re going to operate the company as a whole,” he said. For Novak personally, it has meant learning to operate the business, collaborate with new vendors and operate within unfamiliar departments – essentially taking on an operational leadership role with the company.

While many existing vendors checked in to see what his organization might need, Novak said about 30 percent of vendors he worked with were new. They were onboarded to support digital transformation efforts that current solution providers couldn’t. “We needed to innovate no matter what,” he said.

And innovation is happening fast, according to RingCentral CISO Heather Hinton. The days of a three- to six-month proof of concept with multiple requests for information are gone.

“We have to make decisions much, much faster. I am really reliant on my channel partners to make sure that they’re giving me the right information,” she said. “For vendors, that means being able to solve a problem, not merely selling what they have in stock.”

For Alberici CTO Aaron Geiger, the pandemic meant the continuation of a huge digital shift in the construction industry. His vendor partners are even more critical to make digital transformation happen, and they must keep up. “Economic pressures not withstanding, we’re out there looking for new and better vendor partners constantly,” he said.

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In terms of actual technology, all the panelists are looking at cloud and security solutions that will positively impact their customers or their own efficiency. “Cloud first mentality is where we’re going,” Novak said. “We’re looking at everything across the business in terms of what impact is going to make. …It’s all about the efficiency that it’s supposed to bring.”

Hinton’s priorities lie in providing secure, usable solutions to her workforce. “If it’s not going to hit that security box, it’s out the door,” she said.

RingCentral does a lot of research on vendors ahead of time, but the security space is changing quickly. She needs vendors who make the effort to understand her business. “If you don’t know your customer, how can you be a trusted partner for them?” Hinton asked. Third-party risk management and supply chain management implications are critical for RingCentral’s business. “If whoever it is I want to deal with cannot support me in that journey, then I can’t really consider them,” she added.

Novak said the ideal vendor partner is one that comes to the table with a clear understanding of the problem and a well-articulated solution because they did their research. Ideally, they can even teach him something about his business or anticipate his needs six months out. He had vendors who consistently did that throughout the pandemic, but others didn’t have a solution when he needed it.

Alberici’s Geiger seeks to build true partnerships rather than transactional relationships with vendors. “We’re all far less likely to end the relationship with a vendor where we have a true, long-term trusted partnership,” he said. “When it feels very transactional, it’s easier to look at other solutions.”

Hinton expects the same from her partners but also realizes she needs to be prepared for the same expectations from her customers. “That’s the way it should be because what we are doing is enabling their business,” she said. “I don’t know how to enable somebody’s business if they don’t trust me, and they don’t trust the services that we’re bringing to the table.”

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