Unisys reacted angrily yesterday when one of its flagship UK customers, British Airways, accused IT suppliers of failing to deliver customer-oriented systems and "not wanting to partner". Graham Roberts, director of corporate identity at Unisys, said: "Customer systems often don't work because the clients don't get their act together."
Russell Bowman, marketing consultant with BA's information management division, claimed in a presentation to the IDG Global Summit conference in Istanbul that IT suppliers are not working closely enough with customers or attempting to understand their business.
"Avoid the hard sell and 'market' products and services to us," he said. "You must understand our business environment and adapt to it. Don't assume we always want a long term or in-depth relationship - our needs and focus may change very quickly."
Roberts reacted furiously to the speech, telling the delegates: "BA is accusing manufacturers of not providing customer facing systems and not wanting to partner. This is yet another full frontal attack on IT suppliers for not having specific customer management systems and staff, and not wanting partnership when the speaker knows that Unisys can supply this with our Customer Management System for Airlines."
He continued: "Customer management systems often don't work because the clients don't get their act together. If content is the next wave of computing, perhaps they should apply that to their presentations."
Another delegate pointed out that IT suppliers' marketing may be to blame if vendors are providing good systems, but the perception among their customers is still so poor.
The main theme of Bowman's address was using IT to give BA marketing a competitive edge through customer management systems, which are used to run schemes such as air miles and executive clubs. Increasingly, customer service levels depend on great flexibility in IT systems to respond to changing passenger requirements and new competition. This has led to frequent redevelopment of systems and tactical rather than strategic focus. "System design integrity and architecture" have disintegrated and applications must be built and changed very rapidly. All this has proved difficult for most supplier to cope with, Bowman believes.
Bowman - who works with BA's Information Management Marketing division, which exists to find IT solutions to improve marketing - called on suppliers to work more closely with units like his, rather than just selling them kit. "Help us to develop our ideas and concepts, understand how others in other industries use similar ideas, help us understand business change, build the business case," he advised vendors. "We need to see evidence of expertise, risk sharing, value for money."
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