Six Questions When Choosing an IT Vendor – from CIO Magazine

Selecting a new IT vendor is about more than just checking off boxes for product features and functions. Functionality is important of course, but it’s table stakes.

When you’ll be relying on a software application to help fundamentally improve your business operations and the working lives of employees, it’s imperative to get to know the vendor behind the product.

six key questions to ask IT vendorsIs the company reliable? Are they the kind of people you’ll enjoy working with on an ongoing basis? Are they committed to helping you achieve your professional objectives—or just out to make a sale?

In a recent CIO magazine article, Rob Enderle provides an outline for such an evaluation. He writes, “Asking vendors these six questions might throw them for a bit of a loop, but their (honest) answers will help you determine if they are the right fit for your company.”

Here are the six “things you likely aren’t asking vendors before you make your selection”—along with our answers.

Do they eat their own dog food?

“Does the vendor use the product itself?” And this is more than a simple yes/no question, as Enderle notes. “You want to find out how successfully the vendor uses it” and what measurable results have been achieved.

At Kinetic Data, we’ve built our own internal business service catalog using Kinetic Request and Kinetic Task, and use it to manage requests, approvals, and fulfillment for a wide range of internal services including:

  • Marketing requests (new graphics, updated product sheets, etc.)
  • Travel requests
  • RFE/bug reporting
  • Paid time off
  • Project notes
  • Amazon orders

This service catalog includes integrations with Google, JIRA and Salesforce.com along with rich HTML templates for FYI. Transitioning from a manual email-based system to a service catalog with back-end automation increased routing accuracy by 50% and reduced fulfillment cost and effort by 25%.

We also use our own products for customer support (for example, Kinetic Response for collaboration and problem resolution, particularly for complex issues involving multiple people; this is integrated into Salesforce.com for issue tracking), marketing, product development / DevOps, even to manage registration and activities at our annual Kinetic Enthusiasts Group (KEG) customer event.

Kinetic Data's internal ERM business service catalog

Do they use forced ranking to measure employee performance?

Enderle refers to this practice as “an unfortunate present from Jack Welch at GE,” and recommends against it for several reasons, such as that “it pits employees against each other and makes common goals nearly impossible to accomplish” and “firms that use this practice focus on internal politics, not their customers.”

The Kinetic Data answer: no.

Do they use a lock-in strategy?

Put simply, is the vendor selling an open or closed system? Enderle recommends choosing suppliers that pursue a strategy of “interoperability, where the vendor works to assure that its stuff works in heterogeneous environments.”

We couldn’t agree more. As written here previously:

“By investing in tools (such as Kinetic Task) that support common communication protocols (API’s, Web Services, SOAP, REST, etc.), enterprises can enable users to build business process flows that can easily be adapted to changing needs, and will work not only with the core management systems in place today, but with whatever replaces them tomorrow.”

Not only is Kinetic Data software designed to leverage your existing technology investments, the Kinetic Task orchestration engine enables you to automate workflow tasks by communicating with and between new and legacy management and control platforms—even those not initially designed with interoperability in mind.

In addition, we store our files and internal data in common open formats so you can feel comfortable knowing you could migrate to a new tool if you wanted. (Obviously, we’d like you to migrate “to our stuff.”) We don’t do “tricks” like creating custom compression strategies that force you to use our tools to get at your data. Existing open compression strategies work just fine; custom compression is all about vendor lock-in.

Do they provide a great place to work?

“The more stable a vendor’s workforce, the better it can communicate accurate strategies and road maps,” notes Enderle. In addition, “It may take years to realize the full value for large solutions, but if the vendor constantly changes direction and provides inconsistent support, you’ll probably never see that value.”

At Kinetic Data, many of our key product architects and support professionals have been with us since the beginning of the company, or close to it. Maintaining a talented, motivated workforce is part of our philosophy, as illustrated in this video.

Do they use analytics to make decisions?

According to Enderle, “Analytics are the new secret sauce for making more measured, fact-based decisions. More-informed executives tend to make better decisions…(furthermore) the most important place you want to see this is for customer care, as this analytics lets the vendor understand your problems.”

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: Kinetic Data products are designed to provide service desks and operational leaders with both quantitative (e.g., elapsed time to deliver a service) and qualitative (e.g., user satisfaction with the service) metrics to support continual process improvement.

Reporting on service delivery metrics is baked into our products, and we use those metrics too.

Do they measure executives using NPS?

In Enderle’s words, “This measurement (net promoter score) focuses executives to create advocates out of customers, which means they do care what you think and what your experience will be.”

Our customers are our biggest advocates. We’re thrilled that several have chosen to share their stories on our website, and more present their experiences at KEG each year.

Enderle concludes that by making these criteria part of your technology vendor selection process, you’ll not only make better purchasing decisions, but also influence suppliers—and even your own executive team—to adopt better business practices.

Works for us.

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