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new kind of problem that we need to solve, only to receive the answer, Well, we won t be able to be of much help because we re new at this ourselves Vision Even for a software product as mundane as accounting, it is important to know each vendor s vision for how it aims to innovate and to approach business problems in the future If a vendor s vision varies widely from your organization s vision, perhaps that particular vendor is not the best choice However, a difference in vision should almost never disqualify a vendor entirely, but it should be just one more variable in the long equation of vendor selection References When an organization is considering purchasing software from an outside vendor, it is wise to discuss the vendor with at least two or three reference clients I suggest that a standard questionnaire be developed before any vendor contacts are made A questionnaire will help the project manager or business analyst to collect the same information from each reference customer This will help the organization more easily compare reference information that has been collected from several reference clients Questions asked of reference clients fall into several areas: Satisfaction with installation If the software vendor will be helping with software installation and setup, ask reference clients about the quality of this effort Find out what kinds of specific issues came up and how the vendor managed them Satisfaction with migration If the software vendor is going to be assisting with migrating business functionality to the new software application, ask each reference client about the quality of this effort Whether it went well or not so well, get the names of specific personnel, so that your organization can (if feasible) ask that certain vendor staff be there to support migration Satisfaction with support Find out from each reference client whether they are satisfied with each vendor s support organization See if the support organization provides timely, high-quality, and consistently good service Satisfaction with long-term roadmap Ask the reference client if they are satisfied with each vendor s long-term product roadmap Ask what strengths and weaknesses are in the roadmap What went well Find out each vendor s strengths and try to determine if those strengths are associated with individual vendor employees or with the vendor overall Ask if the reference client would choose the vendor again, and why (or why not) What did not go so well Ask the reference client what parts of their software project did not go so well Find out if the reference client believes their experience to be associated with one specific vendor employee or whether their problems were with the entire company as a whole
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Finally, ask each vendor s reference client what other questions should have been asked Sometimes you ll find out about a completely different set of activities that were associated with the vendor s migration Evaluation When you have received RFP responses from each vendor, you can begin to chart the responses in a multicolumn spreadsheet with each vendor s responses in a separate column You can even score each response with a Low-Medium-High rating, and use that to see how the vendors rank in terms of requirements and references If the field of potential vendors can be reduced to the top two or three vendors, you may wish to evaluate their products in your IT environment for a time Evaluation means having the software in your organization to install and try out with some users The evaluation should be highly scripted not to win or lose, but to systematically verify that the software performs as claimed, and that the vendor s responses to your functional requirements are credible If the software operates differently than their claims in the RFP responses, it s time to ask hard questions or to disqualify them for stretching the truth and move on Vendor support Success with a given vendor s software product can rest on vendor support alone Specifically, if there are problems and support is of insufficient quality, the project can stall or even fail Support quality has a few dimensions to it, including timeliness, quality, and speed to escalation If a vendor falls short in any of these areas, then that choice may have more risk Source code escrow When an organization develops its own software, of course the software is already in the organization s custody However, when a third-party vendor develops the software, the customer probably does not have a copy of it Under ordinary business conditions this is acceptable However, should the vendor fail, the vendor will be unable to maintain the software, and the organization would be stuck with a software package without source code or programmers to support it Source code escrow is a viable solution to this problem, and it works like this The software vendor sends an electronic copy of its source code to a thirdparty software escrow firm, which keeps control of the software If, however, the software vendor goes out of business, then the organization will be able to obtain a copy of the vendor s software for support purposes This is a bad-case scenario but it s better than the worst-case scenario, where the software vendor goes out of business and the organization has no source code at all Selection After the organization has narrowed the search down to two or three vendors, it s time to do more critical thinking, discussing, and identifying of the primary strengths, weaknesses, and differentiators between the vendor finalists The RFP team should make a recommendation to management on its choice, explaining why this particular vendor should be chosen over the others
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