In Part 1 of our article, we covered some background and what to do even before you start the selection process. Here, in Part 2, we cover the process itself.
The selection process is a key step in delivering a successful project. We have experienced situations where the project has started to go wrong at this stage, making it very difficult or impossible to recover. Therefore, the need to start off on the right foot is paramount. To achieve this, there are several key considerations that are worth highlighting:
Do not under-estimate the importance of the RFI/RFP
The there is a misconception that if you send a Request for Information or Proposal (RFI or RFP), or any other tender type document, that vendors will inevitably respond. Whilst working on the vendor side of the fence, I experienced numerous purchasing processes across organisations of many sizes and industries. The first thing I looked at was the overall requirements, could we fulfil these? The second, before even thinking about responding, was the quality of the documentation provided and the quality of the process itself. This would give me a good feel for the organisation and the chances of working together to deliver a successful project. This is as important to a vendor as it is for the buyer. The third is to gauge our chances of success based on previous interaction/contact, methodology of selection and the amount of time required to complete. Every vendor has finite resources and will not respond if the process is not well defined.
As you see, the quality of your documentation is critical. You do not want to lose the best vendor for you even before you start!
Requirements – the need for functional differentiation
This is part of the evaluation made above in respect of the quality of the RFI/RFP but I will cover this separately as it is so important. How are you planning to differentiate between the vendors? This gives a very good indication as to the level of thought that has gone into the proposed project.
As discussed in Part 1, there are several solutions that do the basics, regardless of the genre of software. Let’s take an example – an organisation looking to replace a spreadsheet model with enterprise planning software (a common situation). Most organisations will look for the same key features and functionality; workflow, MS office integration, browser access, multi-user collaboration, data source integration, reporting capability etc. All these things I would deem part of a best-practice planning process. If you were to look at the software market, there are multiple vendors that can deliver these core functional requirements. Therefore, any of these products would work for your organisation. So, how will you differentiate between the vendors? Price potentially, but what does it say about a project when it is based on price alone?
Asking a vast number of questions in the RFI/RFP about base functionality is a poor use of time and does not help you differentiate. In addition, this is not an appetising proposition for a prospective vendor and may impact their desire to respond. The answer is that you need to concentrate on the complex requirements that fall outside of the ‘norm’.
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Put an emphasis on who you work with
My experience is that far too much time and effort are spent focusing and asking questions on the technology and not on the implementation and delivery. If there is a scoring guideline in place, it is often heavily weighted towards the technology.
Make sure that you put enough emphasis on delivery. Use the selection process to form an opinion about the people you will be working with. You should be looking for a ‘software partner’, an organisation and individuals who you can work with for, what could be, several years. This is likely to be subjective, a gutfeel rather than a definitive rating. Perhaps this explains why some organisations place a high tariff on the technology as RFI/RFP guidance often champions removing individual subjectivity? I am sure you will have your own idea as to how to assess the suitability of a vendor to partner with. However, some of the key questions which will provide you with some insight are:
- Who will you be working with? Ask for CVs/consultant profiles of the proposed implementation team. Are they employees or contractors – vital to ensure on-going continuity? I would recommend a face-to-face (virtual if necessary) with key team members at the appropriate juncture. This should include as a minimum the vendor Project Manager and Lead Consultant, the two main points of contact for you and your team.
- What is their implementation methodology and ethos? It is essential that your team are self-sufficient in the future. Ask the vendor how might this be achieved? How does the vendor implement? What project methodology do they follow (e.g. agile, waterfall)? What level of commitment will they require from internal resource?
- What Project Governance is in place? The vendor should be experienced in delivering similar projects and should be able to advise an appropriate level of Project Governance.
- Who provides post implementation support? This is important regardless of whether you are working with a business partner or the software vendor directly. Who will be providing support and what level of support? How do they ensure continuity from the development team through to the support team?
- What makes them different from the others? This question will provide the vendor with the opportunity to identify anything that sets them apart from the competition. This could be specific expertise, an implementation approach or an innovative solution.
In our experience, one of the common reasons for not achieving the desired project outcome is a failure of the implementation process itself. Two major contributing factors to under-achievement are project governance and commitment of internal resource. Ensure that both these aspects are comprehensively covered and carry sufficient weighting in your final decision. I am a great believer in the theory that ‘a bad idea implemented well is better than a good idea implemented badly’.
There are so many things to consider when thinking about software selection. As you can gather from the two articles, the most important aspect of software selection is NOT the technology!
How can GenCFO help you?
There are two ways that GenCFO can help you going forward.
The first is that we can provide you with advice on all aspects or any part of the software selection process, from setting a vision, through requirements gathering, providing agnostic guidance on short-listing vendors and orchestrating the demonstration process. By using our knowledge and experience of the technology market, we can help you significantly reduce the timescale and de-risk the process by ensuring you find the right solution for your organisation.
The second is through our Technology Showcase and Consultancy Showcase which we will be launching in the coming months. The former will list the technologies/vendors and provide more information about their capabilities. The latter will list and provide details of those consultancies that can implement those technologies.
Written by Mark Cracknell, Head of Research, Generation CFO.