Two FIs reveal vendor partner strategies

The stakes are high when choosing technologies and vendor partners. Get it wrong, and sales can tank or projects can fail. Pair that decision-making responsibility with the ongoing constraints on budgets, and IT executives say the task of picking the right technology or the best vendor is an enormous weight to bear and requires meticulous evaluations.

Frank communication with staff and vendors at the outset and strict adherence to agreed-upon strategic plans are the cornerstones of this process. Also, a willingness to seek outside help or partners for all or part of a development or implementation process is key.

Don Buskard, senior vice president and CTO at AXA Financial Services LLC in New York, puts an emphasis on communication. When talking with vendors, he says, “I don’t ask for the world. I describe what I’m asking for and why, explaining what the impact of the decision will be.”

In recent months, AXA has been evaluating and conducting lab tests on tablet PCs from several vendors, with the prospect of rolling out as many as 7,000 over two years to its field sales force, Buskard says. Battery life is currently only two to three hours on the tablet PCs, but Buskard wants three to four hours per battery so sales associates need carry only two relatively heavy batteries to make it through a day in the field. He says he has been meeting “pretty regularly” with all the vendors about battery life and other issues, “shifting the burden…back to them so the risk doesn’t shift to the sales associate.”

Buskard may well get his wish within two years if he persuades vendors to decrease the power requirements for the chip set his operation requires. “I try to give vendors information that helps them understand why what I’m asking for is important,” he says.

Good planning also reduces risks in picking vendors and technologies, especially when IT executives can rely on strategic plans and widely agreed-upon architectural blueprints.

Michael J. Ashworth, managing director and CIO at J.P. Morgan Chase Investment Bank in New York, for example, says he and his management team have adopted a “commercial decision-making” philosophy in the past two years that challenges his team to decide whether there is anything it can buy rather than build.

In the past year, the bank has adopted that philosophy in partnering with Platform Computing Inc. in Toronto. The software provider is building middleware for the bank that handles the distribution of risk management calculations from as many as 40 end-user applications to the bank’s compute backbone, Ashworth says.

Platform Computing brought the tool kit, and the bank developed code around distribution. “It’s a melding of us both,” Ashworth says. “What we could buy wouldn’t have solved our problem here. This solution is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a box-by-box solution.”

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