How to pick the perfect mate among service providers
Don't rush into a commitment with a service provider
There was a time when engaging a new service or software provider was all about cost. Now, with the various types of software — such as cloud-based and open source, to name a few — and very real differences in service offerings, cost alone just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Today, what you install and which network you connect to must be based on needs first and foremost, said Sameer Patel, founding partner of the Sovos Group, a San Francisco-based consulting group that specializes in social and collaborative strategy and technology planning. “Based on the RFPs I’ve seen, people are making premature decisions without having spent enough time on the requirements, and that’s having a big impact on the success of software implementation,” he said. “People aren’t spending enough time thinking about what the chance of gaining participation are going to be. Will employees use the software or service you’re installing? How will it integrate with your existing software and services? Can your IT department handle support? These are issues that people need to be thinking about.”
One expert suggests bringing in a project manager with expertise in software and service who can help you ask the right questions. “Having a project manager on board can provide quality assurance throughout the process to make sure you’re hitting all the right points,” says Geoff Weber, a principal at professional audit, tax and advisory services provider KPMG’s federal practice.
What’s your location?
Of course, after a decision is made, some logistic concerns will pop up. The way people are making choices today might not be the best way to go about it. Figuring out which option — on premises, open source, cloud-based — is best has little to do with the actual technology, Patel said. “Really, what you need to do is have a strong handle not on the promise of technology but on the inefficiencies of your organization. Folks love to jump into the benefits of software and the value that can comes out of it without credibly laying out the problems of what’s in their systems today.”
For example, a cloud-based service might seem like the way to go. But if it will require a lot of expensive and time-consuming implementation work, especially if there’s an on-premises option available that's compatible with your existing software, it might not be the best option. IT departments, working in conjunction with those in the line of business, must discuss what specific integration is needed between existing systems and new software. In many cases, it may even be beneficial to speak with users who typically know how they’d like to solve their problems.
The next step is deciding which type of vendor to use. In the collaboration market, four camps of vendors are out there: pure-play software providers, enterprise resource planning vendors that build in collaboration tools, specialist vendors that sell services and software, and unified communications vendors that integrate collaboration tools with existing communication platforms.
In many cases, new collaboration implementations will also require new or expanded wireless connectivity for off-site employees or contractors. Connectivity providers should also be evaluated based on need. But in this case, IT managers must delve deeper than published speeds and feeds for a particular network. A provider might have 4G service in specific cities but have limited coverage where remote workers are located. It’s only after all of these things are addressed adequately that an organization will see success, KPMG’s Weber said. “There’s a lot of attention in the federal space to failed IT projects,” he said. “How you develop a new project is really most critical.”