Talking to Tech Vendors

 Technology and tech vendors are all around us. Whether at a conference or reading a blog, you cannot help but stumble upon the many enterprise solutions or ed tech start ups that are flooding the higher education market. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing; however I have had a number of professionals and faculty ask me  how to “talk the tech talk” with vendors. Many want to know that they are asking the “right” questions, determining if this IT resource is the best solution, and understanding what the product/software/application can be utilized for at their institution.  Often, I inquire if technology is the right solution to the problem and what the needs assessment indicated – but I will leave that topic for a follow up post.

Photo by AmyGaines on Etsy

 Last year my consulting skills class shared ideas for effectively partnering with clients to  support their interest in design, development, or external enterprise solution interests. I was discussing a few ideas with the instructor of that course this weekend, and I was reminded about a great article I read from Campus Technology – 13 Secrets of the Deal. Here are a few highlights and suggestions from the article that I know I have used when talking to vendors. What are your tips? Please share!

Tips for getting the most out of your vendor search and selection in higher education:
  1. Talk to all stakeholders on campus before you go shopping.
    • all three groups need to be at the discussion  table: users (faculty/staff/students), IT, and the purchasing department
  2. Spend time on the needs assessment, business analysis and strategic plan for implementation.
    • avoid picking a system that looks like one that is owned; instead step back and review for an ideas system
    • encourage stakeholders to be invested in the process/decision-making – more helpful for implementation
  3. Participate in your local (state/province/region/country) purchasing consortium.
    • In the US, some institutions belong to volunteer on a technology committee/group on campus or in the region
    • Have the expertise of the consortium /group help you move forward with your decision
  4. Only buy what you need – make just-in-time purchases. 
    • the price of hardware will decrease and the performance of it will increase
    • buy what you need and grow into it; add later to avoid paying maintenance on something not being used
  5. Encourage competition. Ask for bids from at least two competitors.
    • firms tend to work harder when in a competitive situation
    • advise everyone at a product demonstration to put on their “poker faces”
    • complete comprehensive evaluations; however do not ask for final decisions
  6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Vendors are people too. 
    • good working relationships with vendors can lead to price breaks
    • treat them as you would like to be treated – be conscious of timeline, deadlines & holidays
    • ask vendors where trouble dealing with your group lies
  7. Opt for a demo instead of a lengthy request for proposal (RFP).
    • ability to guide vendor through business process & current practices to allow for vendor to take notes & tailor specs
    • vendors will show you their capabilities & interests based on your questions and what you want to see in a demo
  8. Considering the contract. Negotiations are not all about pricing.
    • consider deals on the little stuff that adds up, i.e. shipping, longer warranties, multiple address for shipping, training, faster delivery, support, etc.
    • collective purchasing – talk with existing customers to participate in the deal – ASK FOR REFERENCES!
  9. Avoid signing a contract straight from the vendor. They protect the vendor more than they protect you.
    • a good reason to work with a buying consortium and other organizations who negotiate vendor contracts & take the customer interests into account.
    • alternative: hire an independent consulting firm to help you understand the terms and to represent your own interests
  10. Long term investment costs. Limit and control escalation factors.
    • usually an escalation clause in a maintenance contract that specifies how much fees will increase each year – think long term on % increases
  11. How much support is needed? Determine training and consulting needs.
    • the purchase of new technology frequently needs to cover additional vendor services
    • additional vendor services are often either over or underbid – includes travel costs, cancellation,
    • talk with other institutions who have purchased the same technology/software/hardware/system to get a realistic expectation of service & support required
  12. Look at alternative service providers.
    • you do not need to purchase services from the same company you purchased gear/software from
    • by not committing to services upfront, you can tell the company you are going to another vendor for support
  13. Should I stay or should I go now? Walk away if you do not find the right deal.
    • if things do not mesh or the terms are not in the same range of your budget – let it be
    • wait  6 to 18 months from now, as something more suitable might come along or your budget may change
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