job description: A vendor manager orchestrates the IT department’s dealings with its suppliers, such as makers of hardware and software and providers of services. The vendor manager guides the purchasing of products or services for the department. This includes evaluating a potential provider’s reputation, resources and expertise, as well as helping with negotiations and contracts. Large IT departments may need a vendor management office, not just one person. This is often necessary when an IT department has varied and complex contracts with outsourcers, both in the United States and abroad, says Christine Bullen, a professor of IT management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.
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why you need a vendor manager: Centralizing vendor management gives the IT department a broad view of its agreements with suppliers and the ability to obtain better terms and prices. “With their broad knowledge, vendor managers can negotiate on behalf of the IT organization and make sure it is getting the best value,” says Greg Ambrose, managing director of Catalyst Search Group, a technology recruiting firm. Without a vendor manager, an IT executive may not know that a colleague is also purchasing from the same vendor, says Brian Gabrielson, national practice director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing and recruitment firm. “You gain efficiency if you centralize these tasks on a vendor manager,” he says. Vendor managers ensure that IT purchases support the company’s business objectives. They also bring an unbiased opinion to evaluating suppliers, which can balance the emotional attachment some IT executives develop for certain brands. Finally, the vendor manager is aware of the company’s policies for dealing with suppliers, as well as legal and contractual best practices.
desired skills: Senior IT professional with at least 10 years of experience. Broad understanding of IT. Experience with software licensing, hardware procurement and outsourcing agreements. Ability to manage virtual, geographically dispersed teams.
how to find one: Ideally, the right candidate is already working for the organization, says Ambrose. “This person would have already demonstrated the necessary ability, success track record, right attitude and communication skills,” he says. CIOs should also reach out to headhunters, as well as ask for references from internal staffers.
what to look for: A candidate must be a great negotiator, a very good listener and highly analytical. The ability to be personable and tenacious is also key to the position. “You have to know how to deal with people and make evaluations based on what’s right instead of what you like,” Bullen says.
elimination round: Ask candidates to describe how they would choose a vendor if they have three that are similar. “I’d want to know their thought process and make sure they have my organization in mind not only today but in the future as well,” says Gabrielson.
$150,000 to $300,000