Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Negotiations during lockdown

From my earlier post “The new abnormal”, one of the points that connected with the majority of IT leaders was “If not already initiated, renegotiate – licenses, maintenance contracts, and third party and outsourced manpower requirements”. Individually almost none could get the attention of their partners who were always there to discuss more licenses, services, or audits for difficult customers. Dropping all their inhibitions, personal rivalries, and competitive distancing, the CIOs organized themselves into a collective group to take on the big and small software and service providers. The mission of these groups, which represented a reasonable spend for the industry, to seek the true spirit of partnership in difficult times.

In the good old days the engagement with the IT fraternity was all about being partners in success, starting from engagements to identify use cases, define financial models for calculating returns, scale up and scale out, digitalization and digital transformation, month and quarter end license deals. When the going got tough for some of the software providers, they decided to scan through lists comprising existing customers who were growing, old customers who did not buy anything after the initial set of licenses, and those who were suspected of using unlicensed versions of COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) solutions. Not very amiable discussions these, some of them did hit pay dirt for the partners.

For everyone business has come to a grinding halt, the WFH addresses administrative tasks and virtual meetings; it does little for the broken supply chain or halted production. While a few online players continue to reap some benefit, their overall business activity is down to less than half (there are always a handful who can be called out as exceptions). With no revenue, the crying need is to find ways to manage the costs associated with IT. The CIO collective decided to partition themselves by vendor (not a partner anymore), to bring some weight behind their quest for relief. The ask was not unreasonable by any stretch:
  1. Surrender unused or excess licenses that were taken for planned growth
  2. Deferment of annual renewals of SaaS licenses and AMC due at the beginning of the financial year (April to March in India)
  3. Reduction in service fees with reduced scope of work, or reduced load factor for IaaS, or network fees
  4. Extension of timelines for pending payments and payment in instalments
  5. Furlough contracted workforce until the situation starts coming back to normal

Thus started the long arduous journey; the group tweeted their angst tagging the vendors local and global leadership teams, sent emails which hundreds of CIOs forwarded for effect; reminders and follow up with reversed rigor – typically seen from vendor sales teams and management to close signing a deal. There was some hope among the group that they would be able to create some impact that everyone could benefit from. The list was quite impressive representing marquee names and many aspirants. Reversed reality if there was one, the turned tables evinced only couple of acknowledgements as if the rest went down a black hole.

So what transpired? Among the dozen odd vendors to whom the communication was sent, barely a couple decided to respond to the flood created by the CIOs. The rest had probably a dam large enough to prevent the water from carrying through to the management teams; don’t worry, we will take care of this – so I heard from a couple of account managers talking to their CEOs. It is also likely that they did receive the mails but ignored the content or intent behind the chain mails. The situation will not last forever and given enough time, the noise will die, only to be forgotten in the activity that would follow the return to the new abnormal. As for the respondents who respected the community of customers, there were the following threads which did not necessarily please the protagonist CIOs.

The first one acknowledged the communication by the group and reiterated the difficult times that have befallen everyone. Difficult times when new business has died away and existing receivables are tending towards bad debt with significant rise in days of outstanding. Difficult times that have necessitated the creation of additional investments in infrastructure or services for their customers to support WFH and related issues. Difficult times with the teams working longer hours to ensure that quality of service is not compromised. And in such difficult times the question of any reduction in prices or renegotiations does not arise whatsoever. With piling inventory and ceased production, we are equally concerned about the financial viability of our services.

Interestingly the second admonished the group for creating a rift in the relationships that have been built with so much effort, give and take, and nurtured with ample doses of support. Ups and downs should not be construed as an opportunity to question the foundations on which the partnership has been laid. There cannot be an overarching policy or decision that would apply to all relationships with a reduction or deferment of payables; it decapitates our business and our ability to provide continued support. We too have fixed costs which we need to service; renegotiations are a no-no, you already have the best of prices for what you buy and consume. Please talk to your respective relationship managers to review what we can do for you.

We are equally hit versus divide and break, both strategies fail to address the problem at hand for CIOs thus creating a permanent crack as everyone fights for survival. What will be the final outcome, we wait and watch.

Latest! A very large global IT vendor refused the premature surrender of partial licenses from a marquee customer stating that the licensing terms have no provision for early termination.

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