By: Justin M. Moran, Subodh Ahuja, and Beth Kujawski, Doculabs
There was a time when companies, clutching fistfuls of IT dollars, found themselves overwhelmed, like kids in the proverbial candy store, by a tantalizing array of technologies. So many choices. How to choose?
These days, with budgets more akin to pocket change, we see a growing number of companies that still suffer the pains of "analysis paralysis." In leaner times, insurers are looking for the most bang for their buck, which leads to scrutiny of requirements, features, and functions. While it's important to be diligent, pressures to make the right decisions can lead to analyses of granular capabilities, stalling a project before it gets started.
No matter the size of a given investment, Doculabs advises its clients to follow some guidelines when walking through the decision-making process.
1. Identify Your Business Goals.
Start out with the analysis of your organization's vision and mission statements. What are the long-term and short-term goals? Reduce costs? Provide better customer service? Streamline business processes? Remember that technology is only an enabler. Often, a solution can be found in simply modifying an existing process or effecting organizational changes. Be sure that any acquired technologies are enablers for your goals, both as immediate solutions, as well as scalable to accommodatelong-term targets. This should be your cornerstone during the entire selection process.
2. Organize a Project Team and Assign a Manager.
Define each member's role and assign responsibilities, and be sure to involve the key decision-makers from each of the departments affected. Define project goals and develop a realistic and achievable timeline. Be sure participants have been freed of enough of their day-to-day responsibilities to focus on the task. And be sure to involve upper management. Having the CEO take an interest helps facilitate buy-in from the troops. For larger projects, a steering committee consisting of upper management may be beneficial, to monitor progress and to provide clear direction when issues need to be resolved.
3. Conduct Formal Interviews with Key Stakeholders.
Interview key stakeholders from across the organization. If the solution affects your interaction with customers or suppliers, you should interview them, as well. This can be an invaluable exercise, and the information gathered from these interviews may bring to light newly discovered solutions. It will ensure a smoother rollout to your business partners. Using a consultant can ensure objectivity and bring a new perspective.
4. Foster Organizational Buy-In. People will determine the ultimate success of any project. Buy-in to the technology vision is crucial. Involve both departmental heads and the line staff. It is important that those who are going to be working with the system on a regular basis are comfortable with it and know what to expect. The interview process in Step 3 will also help ensure buy-in and let employees know their input is valued.
5. Identify and Document Your Business Requirements.
Use the information gathered from the formal interviews to define your system requirements. The interviews should provide enough detail to define a list of functionality and features that the technology solution should provide. Prioritize these requirements to identify which are critical to the project's success and which are just "nice to have."
6. Make the Short List.
Before you invite vendors to visit and make pitches, you have to winnow down the list of candidates. Keep the list short and manageable, no more than six vendors. If you try to listen to too many pitches, you'll only succeed in creating confusion within your team and end up distracting yourselves from your original intentions. It shouldn't be difficult to remove vendors from contention if you stay focused on your business priorities. There will be clear delineations within the vendor pool if proper due diligence is used in creating the short list.
7. Send Out RFPs.
Your short list will become even shorter if you send out a detailed RFP. The RFP should be a complete list of requirements collected from the key stakeholders on your team and their constituents. It should represent the needs of business users, as well as those within your IT department (as identified in Step 5).
Be sure to keep in mind more subjective data points, as well. For example, the financial viability of vendors themselves has come under increased scrutiny. You need to be sure that the vendor of choice will be around in coming years for maintenance and technical support.
8. Appoint Someone To Lead the Vendor Facilitation.
Depending on your satisfaction with the RFP responses, invite the two or three finalist vendors to present in person. Your team will have the opportunity to ask additional questions that might not have been fully explained or addressed in the RFP process. You, not the vendors, should create the agenda for the presentations, and a strong facilitator on your team should ensure adherence.
Allow at least one day per vendor for on-site evaluations. Too often, we see evaluation committees try to cram two to three presentations into one day. This tends to create confusion for the team members, as they try to remember which vendor offers what, and it doesn't allow the team to properly debrief following the presentations.
9. Pick Your Proof-of-Concept.
Choose a mission-critical application as an example for a proof-of-concept. This will ensure the vendor can meet your requirements and demonstrate it in your environment. Often, a vendor will license the code to your firm for a short time at no cost, though consulting or implementation is not typically included.
10. Start the Procurement Process.
Once you've selected the best vendor and solution, the selection process becomes a procurement process. At this point, let your procurement staff do what they do best. They will have a better understanding of the legal aspects of the licensing agreement, and, in the 11th hour, may be able to negotiate a better price or more favorable payment terms.
How to best spend your available IT cash depends on your company's unique position in the market. Stay focused on the business issues at hand and make sure the key requirements of your stakeholders are met. Deciding on a technology solution isn't paralyzing if you break it down into comfortable steps and move through the steps systematically.
Justin M. Moran, Subodh Ahuja, and Beth Kujawski are analysts with Doculabs, a Chicago-based consulting and research firm that helps organizations plan for, select, and optimize technology for their business strategies.