February 11, 2010, 8:09 AM — by Stephanie Overby, CIO Executive Council - If there's one skill that usually gets short shrift in giving up-and-coming leaders valuable on-the-job-experience, it's negotiating contracts with external partners. In some large corporations there are so many parties involved in forging vendor relationships -- from internal purchasing organizations and general counsel to outside consultants and advisors -- that it's difficult for budding IT leaders to get any experience in edgewise. In smaller organizations, top IT brass may cleave so closely to the contracting and management process for fear of losing money or putting the company at risk that they lock their next generation out of the process.
Yet negotiating contracts with IT partners -- and managing the resulting relationships -- is a proficiency that's multiplying in importance for IT leaders as outside providers deliver more and more of the IT solutions portfolio. "There are several key skills all individuals in IT need to take with them to advance in their career, and contract negotiations is absolutely one of them," says Mark Carbrey, CIO of Medford, Mass.-based Cross Country Automotive Services and a group mentor in the Pathways leadership development program of the CIO Executive Council. "The technology world has become so very complex in terms of the web of suppliers and partners that you must embrace to succeed."
Providing this career-enhancing opportunity -- without taking unnecessary risk -- takes some care both on the part of the CIO providing it and the IT manager taking advantage of it.
Building Toward a Solo Shot
Carbrey has very clear ideas about what he wants from IT contract negotiations -- a well-defined process, clearly defined requirements, and -- ultimately -- a true business partnership. To instill those vendor negotiation values in his managers, he employs a team-based approach. His best and brightest will get numerous opportunities to serve on a five person review team negotiating one of Cross Country IT's many contracts.