So now we have a well-planned project with clear objectives and a sound approach, we’ve worked out what we’re looking to deliver and how it will benefit all of our stakeholders, and we get to the phase where we start to look at a range of technologies and to get feted by suppliers whose solutions have bells & whistles beyond our expectations…
Not only has that requirements definition been a robust process but you’ve engaged widely and communicated clearly, so it’s important to maintain that positivity through a potentially quite fraught process. Having been through countless vendor and technology selection processes we know there are a variety of methods to use; the nature of the solution, the scale and scope of the requirements, your priorities and preferences should affect the nature of the process, but it is vital to maintain a robust and inclusive approach. What can still surprise us is how entrenched opinions can be when it comes to technology selections, and how we regularly tend to see a divergence of opinion among stakeholder groups as to the most suitable solutions to consider for their organisation.
There are several tips and techniques which help to manage these challenges, but to enhance your chances of a successful process some specific areas to avoid include:
10. Failing to undertake an objective selection process
Two of the key messages we promote within all of our projects are to be sure to learn from each activity and not to pre-judge anything. This applies and is valuable throughout every phase of a project and is especially relevant when it comes to the selection of the technology element of the solution.
The investment in understanding and reviewing business processes, then in deriving functional requirements, is intended, among other things, to ensure that you are as informed as possible about the core features you require from the technology and about the
priorities and nuances which will really make a difference to the long-term success of the implementation.
There are many ways to undermine all of the good work leading up to the selection process, the most common of which are allowing an elite group to select the technology solution, or only considering a select range of solutions based on previous experiences or perceptions.
At their best, these factors can impose artificial limits on the range of options you can evaluate and, at their worst, seriously undermine the efforts and advances made during the requirements gathering exercises.
Investing in a comprehensive project to review your business processes, derive functional requirements and agree priorities is all intended to enhance your understanding of what you’re looking to achieve and how you think technology can best support you. There are many purposes to this exercise and many benefits of going through it but with respect to the technology selection to follow, the key objective is to find the most appropriate solution(s) for you, based on a wide range of factors. Those are the factors to provide guidance through the selection process.
Equally you have a project team in place and you’ve been sure to engage and communicate widely through the preceding phases so it makes no sense to now effectively say that you’ve taken contributions from across the organisation so a small group will go off to identify the best technology solution to meet those objectives. One key to long term success is that the technology, once deployed, is widely adopted; it is the staff who will have to use the system, and if they’re not involved in the specification, definition, and then selection then they’re less likely to buy in to the decision.
So be open, continue to engage and to seek contribution and opinion across your organisation; you will probably get suggestions you didn’t consider or that you will quickly know aren’t going to meet your needs but you can respond to each suggestion by referring back to the requirements and the priorities garnered and agreed in the previous project phases, all of which reinforces those core objectives and success factors, as well as demonstrating the robustness of the process.
11. Failing to accommodate previous technology investments into your thinking
Whilst the message to incorporate existing technology infrastructure in your thinking may seem to be contradictory in recommending the introduction of a restriction to your technology options, the opposite is actually true. Our recommendation is to incorporate and acknowledge, not to be constrained by. The point here is that most organisations have already made investments in technologies which shouldn’t be disregarded and probably shouldn’t be replaced wholesale.
Taking an active approach to this means the existence and value of the infrastructure should be accommodated in your selection process. If the new system is on a completely different platform then that may make required integrations between line-of-business systems overly complex, expensive or risky, so this needs to be addressed openly and explicitly within the requirements documentation and the initial solution research.
Likewise if potential new systems are only accessible by a convoluted or complex method, distinct from and out of kilter with the existing technology then that may be a barrier to use you can’t afford. In reality we are entering an age where such restrictions are really ceasing
to exist, and where we can say with some certainty that these considerations are no longer likely to significantly reduce the options available to you, but this does still need to be ensured; most of us now expect our core systems to be available 24×7 anywhere from any device, but it is not the case that all technology solutions meet these expectations, or meet them as smoothly and reliably as we would want so there is differentiation to be had here between competing technologies.
12. Expecting the selection process to be an exact science
Whilst robustness, fairness and transparency, diligence and governance are vital components of the process to select your technology partner, the most successful outcomes are usually achieved by understanding that the selection is not a purely scientific and factual exercise. The cultural fit between your organisation and your technology partner is going to be crucial to the success not just of the initial implementation but also of your ongoing use, development and evolution of the solution.
To that end, we encourage our client to take every possible opportunity to engage with potential suppliers, and to be influenced by every engagement they have. Every communication, every response, every interaction should tell you something about the nature of the supplier you’re looking to enter into a significant relationship with, so be open to those influences and when it comes to making your selection, use every available piece of your knowledge to inform that decision.
An ideal selection process will see you whittle down the available options by a variety of means through a series of filtering processes based on the functional and factual criteria determined by the requirements gathering and tender preparation activities. In the final analysis then you should expect to have more than one potential supplier whose solution will meet your requirements, within your budget and timescales. At this stage you can start to incorporate soft factors into your decision making, factors which can’t form part of a scoresheet or a tickbox exercise, but which will have an important part to play in the success of your implementation.
Prepare for this time by engaging where possible with your long list of suppliers. They’re not all sharks trying to blindside you or pull a fast one. If a supplier asks to meet and you can accommodate it then do so, you’re not undermining the other bidders or being unfair. So long as every supplier would be treated the same way then the fact they’ve taken the initiative should be seen in a positive light; if some other suppliers don’t do the same then maybe that tells you something about your value to the supplier and the customer care you’re likely to receive.
This shouldn’t be a purely responsive or reactive engagement either. Assuming you send out an ITT or RFP to a long list of suppliers, against which they need to submit a written response, then invite them to meet with you in a relatively informal manner during that response period. If they have time to review and consider the RFP then meet with you to pose some questions and explore any specifics within the requirements, the intended outcome is that their response is better informed and you get the opportunity to engage with them and derive some notion of their approach and fit along the way.
You have a big decision and a substantial investment to make so you want to know that the partner you select is equally committed to you and to their solution. What’s to lose?
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