It appears that I hit a nerve. Comments on my blog entry Lies Your Vendor Told You showed just how deep the distrust runs between customer and vendor in the IT space. But it also produced a great list of suggestions–some obvious, some not so–to help you stay free of the web of lies.
Commenter Ray Parker provided advice that reads like a checklist every IT buyer should have taped to their monitor.
- Open your eyes to the basic problems.
- Open your management’s eyes (or find a new position). You can’t address this issue from the bottom up, because it’s truly a cultural-level issue.
- Mentor and train staff at every level.
- Learn the technology you are deploying.
- Deploy technology correctly before the production rollout.
- Never ignore the human factors in the everyday use of technology.
- Create a feedback loop in the process, and learn from your own additional experiences.
- Sign milestone-based contracts with everyone, or do business elsewhere. This gets the expectations on paper for all to see and manage, and if the result does not achieve its stated goals, it is obvious to all. Most importantly, your liability is significantly limited and potentially eliminated.
Want to know when a vendor is telling the truth? When they are willing to sign a milestone-based contract and risk not getting paid unless everyone is satisfied.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own, and not those of any entity I have or currently work for, but they should be.
An anonymous poster took other commenters to task for not taking common-sense precautions when buying IT products.
Number one: If you don’t have an IT guy in house hire one or even a consultant. You will need someone to help you understand and navigate technology that to 99% of the general populous may as well be rocket science.
Number two: Add a section on IT development to your company’s business plan. Have the plan specify projected budgets so that you can plan ahead instead of always coming from behind. This includes budgeting for beta testing before going to full deployment in your office environment.
Number three: Listen to your staff. They are the IT person’s best resource in understanding how a product actually works in the actual office environment and they should be yours too. Don’t be shy or timid, or take the ‘they’ll figure out how to make it fit with time’ attitude when a product just isn’t cutting muster after it’s deployed. Fix it early, fix it fast, save a ton of money long term.
Poor Planning = Big ExpenseIT vendors know this instinctively and prey upon it mercilessly. It’s like going to the store when you’re hungry. You’ll empty your bank account everytime versus taking a shopping list that you created from even the simpliest of meal plans.
Another anonymous commenter gave advice on phrases that should have you running for the hills.
I don’t believe statements like:
1. It will evolve 2. It is customizable
3. It is production quality 4. We are customer oriented
5. It is user friendly 6. We can fix any problem you may have after implementation
7. We will help you with implementation problems Tactics I used:
1. set measurable benchmarks for stuff that are important, and construct tests to validate their claim 2. Don’t expect any future enhancement. Assume what you see is what you will get, ever.
3. Put specific service requirements, in details, of what you expect from the vendor, like consulting, training, etc. For example, don’t just ask for hours of training, but specifically saying what kind of person will be trained, and what is the resultant skill level you expect, with tests to verify the claim, plus penalty clauses, including time you staff will spend in unsatisfactory training. 4. Prepare for the wors[t], have a plan B if stuff fails.
5. Don’t sign anything until tests are done and you are completely satisfied with the results, or have contracts (with penalty clauses) from the vendor to rectify any deficiency.
I have to confess that I did drive a few vendors in to bankrupcy that they deserve.
Commenter Winston advises that you put some faith in trustworthy end users and smaller consulting firms.
Hand pick “select” star functional end-user within your organization to work directly with your consultant to ensure buy-in upstream and downstream in the ranks of your organization. For this synergy to work they may be required to spend 100% of their time on the implementation team to ensure all gaps are indentified and filled.
I’d much rather see organizations select consultants from smaller “boutique” consulting groups than the “billable teams” by the major consulting houses. Typically the large consulting houses front load with highly qualified people then at implementation they pull those and fill it with newbies which protracts out the time and opens huge windows for re-work.
Good advice all. Now get out there and hold a vendor’s feet to the fire.