Mutual benefit, respect key to the client-vendor relationship

Aug. 24, 2016
Pat Dixon, process control consultant with, discusses how client-vendor hostility undermines the success of process control projects.

[sidebar id =1]Early in my engineering career I worked at a paper mill in its process control group. It had a new control system that did not have all the bugs worked out of it.  It was clear the vendor’s technology was not fully ready for prime time and there was a long way to go before the full benefit of the investment in the control technology would be realized. The vendor had a full-time staff with an office in the mill to address problems.

While I shared the mill’s frustration with the system’s deficiencies I was also sympathetic to the vendor employees. I interfaced with them every day to help diagnose problems and fix them.  I know that these vendor representatives were sincere in their efforts to make the necessary improvements. I also know that hostility and excessive demands hurt the ability for a vendor and a client to improve the situation.


Years later I was a vendor to that same mill. While working on improvements and customization to meet the needs of the client I was subject to the desire to squeeze as much functionality and benefit out of me as possible. The specifications and contractual obligations sometimes took a backseat to the desires of the client.

Of course we all want the best we can get for the lowest cost. That is the nature of a competitive marketplace. It’s also true that when clients and vendors see each other as enemies the result for both will be suboptimal. To get optimal results in a project there has to be mutual benefit, and both sides need to consider mutual benefit as a goal.

I could give you other examples, but I will conclude with one more. I was a project manager with control engineers doing time and materials contract work at a vendor site. The hostility imposed on our engineers by the client manager was perpetual. The obvious result is that we as the vendor minimized our efforts to mitigate our costs, leaving both sides unhappy.

Read more from our experts in Control's blog series. 

I have been a part of a lot of successful process control projects. They have all been demanding, but the ones that leave both sides happy are those that provide mutual benefit and are conducted in an environment of mutual respect.  

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