SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Looking for ideas on how to better handle relationships with technology vendors? If so, the California CIO Academy was the place to be as California state employees and private companies discussed the finer points of establishing and maintaining successful contractual partnerships.

Todd Halter a manager with ACS, Inc., a Xerox company; and Kurtis Knapp, director of the electronic benefit transfer project of California’s Office of Systems Integration, spoke at length about developing a sense of trust between a vendor and customer. The duo was joined on a panel by Laurye Gage, project manager with the California’s State Controller’s Office and Josetta Bull, vice president of CGI, an IT consulting company.

The group stressed the importance of making sure everyone involved in the relationship knows one another’s’ roles, to avoid confusion during stressful times. Knapp said focusing on trust, respect, accountability, credibility and respect between the parties are key elements of ensuring a partnership starts strong.

The group provided the five tips to remember for building effective partnerships when starting new relationships with vendors:

1.    Know who you are — Have a clear understanding of your organization’s priorities and just how much you can “give and take” during contract negotiations.

2.    Know who they are — Instead of just getting to know a sales representative, work harder to develop a relationship with vendor executives who are farther up the company’s chain of command. Be diligent in understanding the vendor’s motivation — beyond dollar signs — in securing a contract with your organization.

3.    Encourage performance — If possible, use a scorecard methodology to further performance and incorporate feedback.

4.    Communicate well — Make it a point for both parties to subscribe to open and honest communication about needs and expectations. Be frank and transparent in the relationship.

5.    Know the contract — The organization both need a firm understanding of the scope of what needs to be accomplished in a project. Throwing contractual terms around during stressful discussion doesn’t help solve the problem, and pulling out a contract should be a last resort to end a dispute.

“You have to build the trust, but there are a couple of sub-levels to it,” Halter said. Communication that’s open, timely and honest should be the No. 1 priority. “Many times Kurt [Knapp] and I sat in his office and had open and frank discussions about what’s going on and the future — and it’s not necessarily bad news. It’s about the direction and how we can move forward together.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.