Golf & IT Sourcing: Who Knew They Were So Much Alike?


CIO Consigliere here. A few weeks back I told you about how I love mob movies. One of the things I enjoy as much as mob movies is a good round of golf.

Why do I love golf? All the usual reasons – the tranquility of nature, a little exercise, the friendly competition and banter with old pals, and testing my skills on the course. It is just you and the golf course, and you are in complete control of your own destiny. The ball does not move until you hit it, and your target doesn’t move either. If you make a mistake, either through strategy or execution, you have nobody to blame but yourself. That’s why golf is both very humbling and highly rewarding. And, of course, I love golf because it reminds me a lot of effective IT sourcing and negotiating (another of my favorite things).

Now, you may say, “CIO Consigliere, what could golf possibly teach me about IT sourcing and negotiating?”

The main thing is to realize that just as there are many hidden risks on the golf course (for low handicappers and pros alike), CIOs and other business leaders must be aware of the many potential pitfalls, threats and risks as they seek to optimize their strategies, contracts and relationships with key IT service providers and vendors. Standing on the tee, it may look like hitting any part of the fairway is a good strategy, but then you learn that being on the right half of the fairway brings into play bunkers and water for your approach shot to the green. Or it requires you to hit a shot you are not comfortable with, such as a low draw, in order to avoid the hazards.

Similarly, the initial proposal, value proposition, and discount offering from an IT services provider may look like a great deal, when closer examination will reveal many hidden dangers, such as commitments to annual spend volumes, locking-in of higher long-term rates, and hidden premiums associated with achieving the original value proposition. The point is, to succeed in both golf and IT sourcing and negotiating, you need to know the course.

This is all true at every level of the game. Take the U.S. Open, where the best players in the world must overcome brutal rough and extra firm greens. U.S. Open layouts are designed to be so difficult that a score of par or above may win the championship. The course favors playing safe and severely punishes risk takers who fail to execute, even by the slightest of margins. Throw in some poor weather and the risks are further magnified.

Contrast that to the regular tour stops, where the winners are usually double digits below par and many birdies are there for the taking. Usually, pros can miss the fairway or find a greenside bunker and still make par or even birdie. The course set-up, conditions, and the player’s strengths and weaknesses must be factored together to develop an aggressive approach for each hole, one that will maximize the number of birdie and eagle chances. In the U.S. Open, however, the strategy and approach must be conservative, with the goal to avoid bogeys and worse. IT professional and business leaders tasked with evaluating and selecting suppliers must likewise ask themselves how aggressive or conservative they must be in dealing with vendors.

For all these reasons, the Consigliere has one piece of advice for you: get an expert caddie – someone who knows the course, can point out risks and opportunities on each individual shot, and help you with an overall plan for every hole and the entire course. You know, somebody who can set your target off the tee, help you read the trickiest greens, choose the right club at the right time, and stop you from getting too confident after a good shot (or too annoyed when you hit one in the trees or into the water).

Caddies also help you recognize how the golf course changes from day to day. Tee boxes move forward or back, changing overall course yardage. Different pin placements make approach shots easy or difficult. Rough may be relatively manageable or nearly impossible, depending when it was last cut. And then there’s the weather – wind, rain and heat can make a big difference on your scorecard. Remember, even the pros have caddies, and in many cases consider them partners on the course. Watch how frequently they put their heads together during the U.S. Open.

The advice applies to IT sourcing and negotiating too.  You need someone – caddie, consultant, Consigliere – who’s been there, played the course and got a golf shirt and bag tag to prove it. Your ideal “IT sourcing caddie” understands the common mistakes that small and even large organizations make when they work with an IT software or services vendor. Even better if they know how the vendor plays under certain types of market and economic conditions, as well as their overall growth strategies and tendencies under pressure.

Based on those insights and their experience, IT sourcing caddies will help you shape the right communication strategy to optimize your vendor relationships and IT investments. They will give you, for example, more confidence in terms of when to take an aggressive line and “go right for the pin,” or take a lower-risk, more conservative approach. And of course if your caddie-consultant has a long track record with many vendors and lots of low scores – well, you’re likely to hit more good shots and have a better overall round.

In golf, the Consigliere always says “fairways and greens” to wish his playing partners good luck. In IT sourcing, the equivalent phrase would be something like “value and partnership.”

In any case, until next time, cent’anni!

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  1. Felix A. Delgado

    April 17, 2012

    Love your article, love negotiating, love advising and also love GOLF (not very good particularly)

    I was telling a customer during a round of golf, how similar business & golf are and no matter if you buy the best clubs, balls etc. usually your handicap will increase and need time to get use to them and then find out after a while if it was worth it!

    Same thing with technology!!!!!!!!!!

    Have a great week!!!

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