Vendor Selection or Partner Selection?

How many times have you selected a vendor and tried to use their solution to fix a broken process? Or said the words, “I need a tool to fix that”?

As IT professionals, we have been helping make vendor recommendations and selections for many years. Because of our experience, we can start to take some things for granted or the process becomes routine. There are so many demands on us that we try to streamline our vendor selection process, which is a mistake. Selecting the right solution for your environment is one of the most important things you can do.

We cannot use a vendor solution to fix a broken problem or process. A vendor’s solution can only help us if we know what we want to achieve. This means that we must start by building our requirements for our desired target state, not simply in place upgrade or like for like replacement. Most business case justifications are a five year payback so it is critical to know where you want to be not just where you are.

These requirements cannot be created in a silo. A broad, cross-functional team is needed to build the right requirements for the opportunity. You will need to document the business, technical, security, data and architectural needs of the effort. Missing in any of these areas will lead to a potentially bad decision. Remember, you are not just selecting a vendor but a strategic partner that you want to have a relationship with.

And there are the magic words: a strategic partner that you want to have a relationship with. Creating a strategic relationship means that not only the solution matches your needs but the vendor’s process and culture align with your IT Culture. If a vendor’s approach and your IT Culture are different there will be instant friction in the relationship.

In Oakland County, we have created architectural criteria to help understand the vendor’s methodology and culture. We insert these “requirements” into every RFP. These questions provide insight into the vendor’s IT DNA. They will help you get to know the vendor and how they do the business of IT. They will let you know if the vendor can be compatible in the long term with what you expect and need. We have shared this list of criteria in our Enterprise Architecture Best Practices library on the G2G Marketplace. You can find them by clicking here.

Strategic relationships require time, consideration and nurturing. You only have one chance to make the vendor relationship right and it starts with the correct selection from the RFP process. Always start with your end state in mind, analyze all responses based upon your needs and make a selection that have wide consensus and aligns with your needs and IT Culture.

Author: EJ Widun, Enterprise Architect for Oakland County, Michigan