Whether you are working in a complete custom software development shop with little vendor interaction or a technology integration shop with vendor solutions integrated with other vendor solutions on top of yet other vendor solutions, you will have to manage vendor relationships to some degree as an IT manager in a MidWestern company. This series looks at the complex arena of IT vendor management and offers some tips to make the arduous process a bit less arduous and possibly discover some additional benefits along the way.
Vendor Management Categories
- Who Owns the Relationship
In the previous article, I described aspects of the differences when there is a strong compared to a weak partnership between the business and IT. In this article, I suggest some approaches to consider when the partnership is weak and how to get injected into the vendor due diligence process in order to improve the chances the company will pick the better vendor when it comes to technical service integration.
Whether it is due to an inability for the business to successfully navigate IT, lack of experience that suggests IT needs to be involved right from the beginning of the due diligence process or a slick vendor sales pitch that conveys a “no brainer” technical integration path, often times IT isn’t engaged early enough in the selection process. Below are some key questions that, once answered, will help suggest an aggressive engagement process with the business to aide in integrating the vendor’s technology with you and your team’s service.
Has the Contract been Signed? Not Yet!
If the contract hasn’t been signed, find every opportunity to get yourself injected in the vendor procurement process. What is your goal after injection? Cook the business case so the work gets done in house. No, rather, gather as much data regarding projections for business service attributes such as:
- Volume of discrete business transactions
Expected integrated systems usage patterns
Technology touch points between the vendor and the company
Sales projections to determine licensing and capacity needs
Once gathered, even if not complete to the level of detail desired, conduct an assessment of the impact of this additional service integrating with your existing technology platform. If you identify a material impact such as:
- Volume to drive need for additional capacity
- Customer sales predictions exceed current year over year licensing
- Vendor platform/integration interface requires an upgrade/investment in extending your service to interface with the vendor’s platform/integration interface
- New integration pattern not proven in production
- Experimental technology such as an unapproved industry standard clear deviation from an industry best proactive
Document it and associated risk mitigation steps and get into the vendor selection or procurements process. Wait a minute, this is sounding like a “CYA” exercise? In the extreme interpretation, maybe, but I argue this is plain good management sense. As an IT manager faced with putting your career and reputation at risk for confirming you and your team can support integrating with a vendor for potentially a 3 to 5 year service agreement, if not longer, based on the limited, mostly verbal, interactions with the leading vendor candidate. Also, note the combination of both noting the concerns and documenting steps to reduce or eliminate those concerns.
An example comes to mind as to what I am suggesting. Consider a hypothetical example:
Consider a business service that involves a vendor hosting a web site that allows the business customers to sign up online and view a summary of transactions (purchases, shipments, financial money flows, widgets coming off an assembly line, etc.):
- The vendor has an integration pattern of receiving transaction batch data at night, processing and posting for users to view the next day
- The business wants this service, but with a more real-time data flow. As the company completes a transaction, it wants to push the transaction attribute data to the vendor and have them post it as soon as they get it.
- Your IT service within the business has the ability to aggregate business transaction data as it occurs and creates batch files nightly to be posted to other systems.
- Both your service and then vendor’s service have the capability to interact more real time with minor service extensions, but you both lack the real world, production experience to confidently mutual subscribe to an integration pattern that has proven to work in the past
Option A – Charge Off and Build
Mutually agree to support the business need for real time transaction postings. Support an implementation date that includes some integration testing prior to production go-live.
Risk? Business starts the marketing engine to deliver a new product or solution to customers by the go live date. You and the vendor as well start doing the real hands on solution development and you realize the go-live date is unrealistic. Unrealistic due to a better understanding of how both systems need to change, support the new real time feature set and not impact existing system usage patterns. Next step? Figure out how to tell the business they need to allot more time for systems integration, delay the marketing engine, and pray your new data estimates are going to stick.
Option B – Charge Off to a Milestone
Mutually agree to build an integration prototype or proof of concept that achieves specific technical milestones that allow both IT and the vendor to more confidently predict the final go live implementation date. Reach a contract level understanding that these specific milestones will be achieved and the costs associated with achieving them.
Risk? Risk is significantly reduced as the time invested in the proof of concept technology spills directly into final solution development with the majority of the unknowns converted to knowns. The business doesn’t know exactly the go live date initially, but they know they will get a date in short order that they can more aggressively plan for with higher confidence it won’t slip.
Both the vendor and the business may need some heavy convincing this is a more risk adverse approach that nets all parties a higher degree of confidence in dates and investments. What are other serendipitous outcomes might be experienced? I would bet even if the proof of concept is exceedingly technical in nature, the business might find some of their assumptions on how the final business solution is implemented will be invalidated as they see the results of the proof of concept work.
Continuing this MidWestern IT perspective on the topic of “Who Owns the Relationship?” in the next article; what to do if the contract has been signed?