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5 rules for picking a good tech vendor

Rule #1: Get real

Do you feel like your bank remains a few pages behind the class? Maybe that's not so bad. Anna Murray, the "Tech Sherpa," regularly presents real-world suggestions on how to solve technology conundrums. Do you feel like your bank remains a few pages behind the class? Maybe that's not so bad. Anna Murray, the "Tech Sherpa," regularly presents real-world suggestions on how to solve technology conundrums.

How do you find a good tech partner?

“We need to write a good RFI/RFP.”

That’s the answer most companies give.

But it’s only the starting gate. Truth be said, most RFPs are lousy, even though companies think they’ve done a good job.

Try this instead

Here are 5 guidelines that will help you choose a good vendor:

1. Be realistic about who you are and who they are.

There’s that old quote, “Nobody every got fired for hiring IBM.”

It’s not really true anymore—if it ever was. Failures happen with big brand-name companies all the time.

Here’s why:

Firms like IBM, Accenture, and other big players are, of course, very technologically sophisticated. Which means they expect to engage with clients who have a similar level of technological sophistication.

When the client can’t “meet them at their level,” so to speak, faulty communication and missed expectations doom projects.

Engaging with the big-name tech firms is kind of like trying to dock with the International Space Station. You have to be ready for it, with all the right hooks and connectors in place.

Be honest. If you’re a company in the process of maturing technologically, look for a smaller vendor partner, one that’s more tolerant and flexible.

That’s probably a better match for where you are.

2. Notice the meta data.

A vendor with a solid technology, 30% less than the nearest competitor, and good references to boot. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot—if you don’t read the meta data.

One of my clients faced this situation. What did they miss? It was all around the edges.

The principal of this technology firm always seemed to be talking about some conflict. This phenomenon had nothing to do with the project, just noticed in sidebar conversations, such as chit-chat while everyone dialed into the GoToMeeting.

But, like clockwork, conflict emerged as the central trait in working with this vendor. Their account managers always took an adversarial tone. Every interaction was treated as an us-versus-them. Progress became impossible.

Two years later, the client is engaging with the more-expensive-but easy-to-work-with #2 choice and is being treated like gold. In addition, the vendor is delivering over-and-above what they promised.

P.S. When you take into account missed deliverables and over charges with the old vendor, Vendor #2 ends up being more cost-effective.

3. Get clear on the core vendor qualities you are looking for.

If someone asked you, “What’s the most important quality for you in a mate?”

Your response probably would not be, “Tall.”

You would (hopefully) respond that you want your mate to be generous, gentle, intelligent, and so forth.

The same kind of thinking needs to be applied in vendor choice. Here’s a list to get you started.

• Technically excellent

• Strong project management

• Cost effective

• Easy to work with

• Nimble

• [add your own qualities here]

Hint: You can get thrown off this approach if you’ve been burned in the past.

Like saying, “I’m never going to date a man from the Midwest again!”

Really? You eliminated the entire Midwest?

In the tech space what that sounds like is “.Net vendors are terrible to work with,” or “I’ll never go with another agile shop.”

Set aside surface traits, such as “must do/not do agile” and look for more core traits such as flexibility and technical excellence.

4. Choose as if it’s for the long term.

“This project is only 4 months long. So, it doesn’t matter if their project manager is green.”

Why would you engage with a vendor for a week, if you wouldn’t engage with them for a year?

Strive to have the same standards for short-term engagements as for the long term.

Because, the truth is, most projects take longer than you think. They will require support over the long term.

5. Actually write a good RFP/RFI.

Most people inside companies only write RFPs, and never have to respond to one. Most people on the vendor side have only had to answer RFPs, never write one.

You could see how this might be a problem.

Don’t assume you or your team knows how to write a good RFP. The best way to get a roadmap towards a good RFP is to ask a trusted vendor partner—maybe one that already works for you—for their best RFP example.

A good RFP is so rare, it’s memorable.

Guaranteed, if they’ve ever come across one, they’ll have it saved.

Many banks and companies in general have “tech transformation” as a goal, whether that means modernizing a digital banking platform, making an older website responsive, or moving to the cloud.

Inevitably, achieving such objectives will mean engaging with one or more tech partners. So, it’s a good idea to hone up on your tech-partner-choosing skills.

Anna Murray

Anna Murray of emedia llc brings a real-world view to life in the trenches of technology. Often with a dash of humor, Murray’s suggestions can help tech work better inside your organization. She is the author of The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond.

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