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Technology Vendor Selection

Who’s the greatest? Muhammad Ali of course. So why do most vendors seemingly have the same bluster?

In the technology industry, you better believe your own story, but there are things that all customers should ignore or move onto another vendor when they hear:

  • We’re the best or most experienced.
    Summing the ages of all employees and significant others is an obvious ploy. Also, a lot of advertising doesn’t make you the best.
  • We’re certified.
    That dated MCSE, archaic command line knowledge, and that on-line open-book hardware test don’t mean much today.
  • We want to be your trusted advisor.
    Who doesn’t?
  • We do good work real fast.
    Speed is fine, but it doesn’t rank in the most important aspects of technology implementation.
  • People like us.
    The inflated testimonial quote from a buddy and your girlfriend on your own website are transparent. That LinkedIn recommendation from your best friend about how honest you are doesn’t help either.

Generally, the younger the company the more repetitive and outlandish the claims. Before the feeds and speeds and myriad sales presentations, here are some points to quickly qualify the true professionals from the pretenders:

  1. What is your need and their motivation?
    Start with your specific needs, preferably not  more than 6-10 concise and quantifiable phrases. It’s amazing how many clients don’t do this first step in helping to eliminate the bulk of vendors and focus on just a few. Then while you’re Googling, a dated and poorly done website is an initial warning sign. Other warning motivations include “doing it all for any and everybody” unclear focus, slogans beginning with their profitability first, and myriad logos of manufactures signaling an invested reseller pitch regardless of need.
  2. How long have they been in business?
    Much like restaurants, most technology and consulting firms fold in 3-7 years. This question will cut to the bone for many vendors and should be one of your top disqualification factors, as you’ll generally want a minimum 5  year solution. While that LLC startup may sound hip, you should ask how they are funded and true business background in addition to technical.
  3. How did their business start?
    The vast majority of technology companies start under less than honorable circumstances. Some of the stories are harrowing: individuals stealing company brand and tag lines and representing as their own, selling services for their new startup while working for their previous employer, downloading employer documents and processes for their new venture, and disparaging their employer and utilizing trade secrets to solicit existing clients and break contracts. Litigation is $50K to start and there is little protection for employers via law for such piracy, with only lawyers reaping the reward and offenders simply going bankrupt and starting again. Remember that the companies you pick have a great deal of access to your information and you do need them to be trustworthy. Ask for contact information for their previous employer and if that employer would hire them again. When you don’t hear from them any more or you get the real story from the previous employer, know that you dodged a bullet from making a big mistake.
  4. What are the credentials of the owners?
    Another dirty secret of the industry is that most principles have no degree. That former cable installer and PC assembler who got a MCSE in 2003 via their previous employer may be touting consulting experience, but with no formal training you’re taking a big risk. Knowing how to install software and hardware are drastically different skills from business process, planning, and understanding. This point comes back to the issues of credibility and longevity.
  5. What is under the covers?
    Throughout the selection process, you should be asking and evaluating what the vendor uses to do their job. Is the offering open and can you check it or are you restricted from even accessing your own systems? Is that Microsoft vendor really using a Linux box for monitoring? Why is the service provided by two or three companies? Do you want a foreign system from India and phone support transferred there? Finally, visit the offices. Lease space is cheap and many startups have a fake office and a few 1099 contractors working from home. You’ll know it when you see it as the office will likely be in a retail strip, have a plain black and white sign, and an odd wall facing the entrance protecting the view of largely empty space.

Throughout the selection process, it is a glaring mistake not to tell the vendors the other players who are competing because things you may have missed will be identified by competitors. Also, after selection let the short list candidates know who won and why.

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