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Five vendor selection tips for midmarket CIOs

Making the right vendor selection is as critical as choosing the right tool. Use these guidelines to avoid making the wrong choice and paying for it later.

One of the most challenging issues IT managers face is vendor selection. Vendors can range from consulting partners and hardware providers to software manufacturers and service organizations. Partnering with a vendor is often the right idea for small to medium-sized organizations, which tend to lack the in-house expertise required for point projects and the resources to form staffs focused on specific technologies. However, choosing the right vendor is crucial, since the decisions it makes will often affect your organization in the long term.

One of the best approaches to vendor selection is proper vendor sourcing:

  • Begin with a comprehensive outline of your requirement. IT is often a broker between the vendor partner and the internal client, therefore it's crucial that IT properly understand the requirement. The best way is to outline the requirement in a way that will ensure that both the IT department and the internal client agree on the contents and the need.

  • Determine which kind of vendor will best fulfill the requirement. One of the most important jobs the IT department has is vendor selection. If the requirement is for a new technology to support an internal initiative, then the right vendor will be an infrastructure service organization. If the job is to develop a new program in support of new business objectives, then the right vendor will be a development firm. Identifying the right type of partner will help narrow down the potential choices.

  • Once you know which category of vendor you require, you can proceed with the creation of a list of potential vendors. Search for the right type of vendor through online tools. Also, determine if your organization requires a large- or smaller-scale partner. Large-scale vendors will often bring a breadth of expertise to the project, while smaller vendors will bring point skills that can be focused on your needs.

  • Proceed to the interview. Interviewing a vendor is vital before entering into the partnership. Treat the interview as a job interview. You want to make sure you select the best partner for the job, since your vendor partnership should be a long-term affair. Be tough and don't speak with just sales personnel. Make sure you include technical personnel in the interview as well. Also, remember to include your internal customer on the interviewing board.

  • Create a short list and make a selection. Short list all potential candidates. Then, meet with your internal customer to determine the best candidate. Make sure you make a record of the decision points used to make the vendor selection. This can be useful if things go wrong during the partnership.

Once you've gone through this five-step process, you'll be ready to begin the partnership. In a service industry like IT, the personnel often makes up a firm and its qualifications. Large firms can often rely on their names alone and provide you with personnel that are less skilled than you expected. Smaller firms tend to rely more heavily on very qualified staff, but if they're hyperqualified, they will be in high demand and may not be able to provide you with the investment in time you need to make things work.

In the end, only time will tell if your partnership will work properly, but a standard and strict vendor selection process should reduce the potential for error. Partnerships are essential to smaller organizations since they can provide timely expertise, extra help when required and valued advice when it comes time to select new technologies, while maintaining costs at a reasonable level. Choosing the right partner is part of doing business when you don't have the resources to do everything yourself.

Danielle and Nelson Ruest are IT experts focused on virtualization, continuous service availability and infrastructure optimization. They have written multiple books, including Virtualization: A Beginner's Guide for McGraw-Hill Osborne, and MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-652): Configuring Windows Server Virtualization with Hyper-V for Microsoft Press. Contact them at infos@reso-net.com or editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was last published in November 2010

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