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One of the numerous highlights of a recent eWEEK survey of solution providers’ business practices was that when it comes to winning new business, many prefer to target the executive management team of a prospective client rather than the IT department.

This makes sense on two levels. Sometimes there is no real IT department to speak of in a company with, say, fewer than 100 employees, and, secondarily, IT people historically have viewed services offered by solution providers as a threat to their continued employment. The reasoning goes that if an IT services company can do what IT department personnel do for less, ultimately the IT staff will be out of work, so IT people spend much time building financial arguments about why it is more efficient to have an internal IT department than to rely on third-party services.

But as the song goes, “The times they are a-changin’” in the land of IT. Today a large percentage of the people running IT departments are having a hard time finding anybody qualified to fill open positions. In fact, in a recent survey of 112 IT executives conducted by the Society of Information Managers, more than half cited the ability to attract and retain IT personnel as their No. 1 concern.

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What all this hiring pressure is ultimately leading to is a fundamental change in the way IT people think about third-party IT services companies. Instead of seeing them as a competitive threat, they increasingly see them as the last line of defense in a very thin wall of people needed to develop, build and maintain critical systems. This means that rather than competing with IT services companies, many IT executives have taken to advocating within their organizations on behalf of IT services companies.

From the perspective of the IT services companies, this is a crucial turning point in the traditional relationship with IT. As more IT people become enlightened about the value of IT services companies, the conversation will shift from cost to value. Put more succinctly, because the internal IT organization won’t be competing as aggressively on cost, the pressure on the IT services company to lowball pricing to get the initial business drops significantly. And hopefully that will even lead to the real value and cost of a particular IT project being determined across a federated relationship between IT and services partners.

It’s unlikely that all IT organizations will simultaneously become equally enlightened about IT services companies, but the time to reach out to your customer’s internal IT people has never been more auspicious. This, of course, isn’t because of anything solution providers specifically have done but, rather, because of the macroeconomic issues with which internal IT organizations are wrestling.

We all know that people under pressure can be overly defensive, but self-interest is also a powerful motivator, so once IT people believe that you truly understand their plight, you’ll be surprised how open and responsive they really can be. And all it might take to get something started is for somebody to be the first to extend a hand in friendship.

Michael Vizard is editorial director of Ziff Davis Enterprise. He can be reached at