Vendor selection: the most crucial IT competency?

Note: I’ve been in Ohio during an intense three days of on-boarding staff and beginning-of-fiscal-year meetings. So I missed a few days of postings. Hope to return to a more regular schedule!

My experiences in IT have shown over and over that vendor selection is critical to any project’s success and IT’s overall ability to provide value. So, of course, I hope to talk about that topic here.

My best stress-reducing advice to any IT manager would be to put as much effort as possible into vendor selection. Whether it is actually contacting references (contacts you make on your own will be more reliable and objective than those provided by vendors) or having the vendor setup a test environment so that you can personally verify the solution will meet your requirements, any extra effort you can put into vendor selection will save you headache in the future. Guaranteed. I’m even willing to spend some money during the selection process to confirm that sales-speak matches technical reality before a contract is signed. While it is probably possible overdo vendor selection, there’s little danger given the tight project timelines most of us face.

So many of the RFP documents and selection processes I’ve considered have been long and complex. While the intention is to be complete the result is that the process often gets skipped entirely. Determine the minimum steps you need to follow and stick to them for any selection. The bigger the project, the more important it is to ensure you’ve completed all due diligence. If your audit firm, executive director, industry regulations or other external factor requires a certain process (great!), make sure to include those steps, but also ensure IT and your specific organization’s needs are being carefully evaluated. To get started check out the excellent and concise recommendations posted yesterday by Andrew Makar: Five tips to a better Request for Proposal. I’m off to update our process document based on his tips and thinking it spurred for me. I may post it here in the future.

It seems that vendor selection is also as much a mindset as it is a process. While the process is a series of steps that attempt to emulate the required mindset, no process can ever account for every situation you may face during the wild, wacky world of vendor selection. I’m going to add Makar’s article (possibly with additions) to the beginning of our process as required reading for all selection team members (even if we’ve read it in the past). My intention is that this step will give us pause and remind us of the mindset we need to adopt while in vendor demos, evaluation meetings, etc. as a selection team.

What tips have worked for you when selecting a vendor?

About Kye Hittle

I’m tall, enjoy traveling, running and the company of good friends. Lover of [square brackets]. (OK, parenthesis too, which I overuse, and {curly braces}!) Professionally I am the Director of IT for a nonprofit and do freelance higher-ed, small biz and other nonprofit tech gigs. I heart technology used for personal and societal good.
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