Selecting the right software vendor can be a minefield with disastrous results for the business if the wrong supplier and system is selected, so how can the worst of the pitfalls be avoided?
Perhaps the first thing to remember is that you are selecting a commercial operating platform rather than a system and the process must be business led and IT supported rather than the other way round.
The biggest error of all is to follow through a managed selection process involving the key business users, vendor scoring and due diligence only to ignore the outcome and let IT make the decision based on technical ability. This will often result in a very standard application with uninspiring functionality that meets perhaps half of your requirements but will be a huge technical beast whose robustness cannot be questioned as it is already proven in companies several times larger in volume and capacity than your own.
Stepping back to the beginning of the selection process the two key pieces of work are: firstly to produce a decent set of requirements for the Invitation to Tender (ITT). This does not need to take 6-months to produce but must provide absolute clarity to the responding vendor about the business objectives and key functional requirements. This document will become the foundation of your selection process and provide the basis on which you will "score" vendor submissions.
The second piece of work is to decide which vendors you want to invite to tender. This does not need to be a long list, probably 6 - 7 suppliers, as any more becomes unmanageable and the key business users involved will suffer presentation fatigue and death by PowerPoint.
Do not include a vendor (however well known) just because IT told you to. The vendor may be technically sound but if the particular application the business is looking for is not part of the vendor's top product suite you may find yourself reviewing "vapour ware".
I had recent personal experience of this when a very well known supplier was asked, against the advice of the business users, to submit a proposal. This involved scheduling a 4 - 5 hour presentation to key stakeholders during which it became so apparent that this was a mistake the vendor was stopped and asked to leave the building. This was a shocking way to behave and only amusing as the person who did it was the very person from IT that insisted the vendor be included. Certainly a first for me!
Finally remember one very important aspect of vendor selection: the people selling you the system are not the people who will be implementing it with you, or working with you as your partner in the years to come.
Written by Jane Fransen-Hale: Director JEM Retail Consultants.