Procuring solutions from third party vendors can be a beneficial way of implementing change without having to build a solution from scratch. When in need of a specific system or IT based solution, an organisation might investigate procuring an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution from a specialist vendor or managed service provider (MSP). When in need of a new capability, they may choose to outsource specific business processes to a trusted third party. Looking externally can help an organisation to avoid having to ‘re-invent the wheel’, and can enable them to utilise the expertise of teams that have implemented similar solutions many times before.
However, procurement of this type—particularly on large scale initiatives—can be tricky. It will often involve a formal vendor assessment phase where the client organisation will liaise with a range of potential suppliers and will assess which solution is a best fit for their needs. It is likely that they’ll run an Invitation to Tender (ITT) or a Request for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Third party vendors will respond and will bid for the business, and the client will make their selection based on the vendors’ proposals.
This initial phase is normally run on a very tight timescale. The client is (understandably) keen to ‘hit the ground running, and they will quite rightly issue a tight deadline to the vendors. Each vendor will put together a team to assemble a proposal and pitch to the client and will be keen to ensure they are offering the right solution to the client, and will be keen to give the opportunity to showcase their solution’s features. The client will be keen to ensure that their requirements are understood, and each vendor will be keen to showcase the alignment of their solution to the client’s needs (as well as highlighting any unique selling points).
However, there is a danger awaiting the unprepared, particularly when timescales are tight. The pre-sale phase of a project can turn into a metaphorical ‘honeymoon period’ where both the client and the vendor think they understand each other. Both are doing their best to impress each other, and with tight timeframes there won’t be the time to explore each and every specific detail of the solution. But sooner or later the honeymoon ends and reality bites. And if we’re not careful, after the contract is signed, there is a danger that we’ll discover that the supplier has misunderstood some of the client’s key requirements, or the client has inadvertently misunderstood the features, functions, services or capabilities being offered by the supplier. This is a recipe for disappointment further down the line, and once the honeymoon period is over we might find ourselves heading for a messy divorce! This is a situation that is best avoided.
What this means for business and business analysis:
The initial phases of a project are crucial for building a mutual understanding. Even if they are time constrained it’s crucial that suppliers and clients work collaboratively to ensure there is a real understanding of the underlying need. If either party feels pressured or feels that they don’t have sufficient information, it’s important to raise the red flag and have a collaborative discussion. After all, it’s better to have these conversations early as bad news doesn’t get better with age.
The discipline of business analysis can help avoid and mitigate the risks discussed above, and a good business analyst (on both the client and vendor side) can help ensure that everyone is on the same page. A set of high level outcome based requirements can help to drive this mutual understanding and collaboration. Outcome based requirements should focus on the outcomes and outputs that the solution needs to achieve, without specifying or implying how those outcomes are achieved. Techniques like Acceptance and Evaluation Criteria or Scenarios can be extremely useful—but there are many other tools at our disposal too, and it’s important that we pick the right one for the situation.
Creating succinct documents that crystallise this shared understanding provide a useful guiding beacon for the entire project or relationship.
In summary: A successful relationship between a client and a vendor or MSP is built on mutual understanding. Focussed business analysis effort up-front helps avoid disappointment and a ‘messy divorce’ after the honeymoon period ends!
What are your experiences and tips? I’d love to hear from you. Please add a comment below.
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This post was brought to you by IBM for MSPs and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s PivotPoint. Dedicated to providing valuable insight from industry thought leaders, PivotPoint offers expertise to help you develop, differentiate and scale your business.