Can customers turn the tables on their technology suppliers? Merrill Lynch would like to think so.
Steering away from the usual supplier-driven hard sales model, the merchant bank now tells suppliers what will be on its technology roadmap for at least the next three years. Then each manufacturer must attempt to convince Merrill Lynch that it is the correct partner to meet those requirements.
The bank's unit for Europe, the Middle East and Africa has hosted three seminars in London, which were attended by up to 45 potential suppliers eager to hear about the Merrill Lynch roadmap.
Such a turnout was not surprising, because Merrill Lynch has the pulling power of a global annual IT spend of £1 billion, plus promise of an imminent £65 million technology roll-out for its new office in the City of London.
The technology roadmap breaks down the bank's IT strategy into 76 component parts, ranging from laptop PCs to middleware and virus protection. One person is answerable for each unit and must ensure that a detailed, three-year blueprint is available for anyone in the bank to view in a central repository and to provide feedback.
That also means a single point of contact for suppliers.
"We told them, you will go to the one person who is in charge - you cannot ring round to all the people you know anymore," said Marc Lagadec, the bank's architecture and strategy vice president in Europe.
In most previous such dealings, he complained, "resellers and vendors used the same sales pitch with different people in the organisation", one after the other.
The motive behind the technology roadmap is to create a central repository of structured information, with precise definitions of technology terms and standards used throughout the bank.
No targets have been set for what this would save in IT spend or in streamlining personnel, but savings are expected. "If we only saved one-tenth of 1% of our IT expenditure, that would be £10 million," Lagadec said.
Merrill Lynch is also thinking ahead about future technological changes, after this year going through a painful change from nine e-mail systems to one worldwide Microsoft Exchange system.
To avoid that kind of thing happening again, Merrill Lynch is assessing which mobile phone and personal digital assistant it will offer as an internal standard, along with customised functions using future technologies such as Bluetooth (wireless technology from Toshiba, IBM, Ericsson and Nokia, due early next year).
The technology roadmap has been pioneered in Europe and will be applied worldwide. IT suppliers have been given only paper versions of the roadmap so far, indicating who the contacts are for each technology component.
Merrill Lynch is deciding whether to allow selected suppliers limited access to the database through an extranet.
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