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Day: October 5, 2007

Submitting Proposal Requests to Vendors

While WCM needs-analysis and generation of a master requirements document (MRD) usually prove to be quite in-depth undertakings for most clients, the RFP submitted to vendors should aim to be as simple and concise as possible. Here’s why.

When vendors receive a very long, nuanced description of a functional requirement, it becomes easier for them to craft a response that technically satisfies the requirement and simultaneously to withhold other relevant and more meaningful detail. On the other hand, when vendors receive a brief description of a functional requirement or category, along with specific instructions to provide as much detail as possible (at risk of not receiving credit if enough detail is not provided), they often feel compelled to write as much they can. The abundance of information found in such responses usually allows the customer to discern just how well a vendor’s products or solutions match line items in the MRD.

Recommendation to Gilbane clients: After detailed needs analysis and creation of an MRD, pare the language for each functional criterion in the RFP to a somewhat general level. For example, rather than inquiring specifically about content locking models (along with the other 20-30 minute components within library services) ask instead for a complete description of what the vendor’s solution provides in the library services category. It is essential to state that more detail in the response is better than less, and that if a vendor omits relevant information, they may not receive full marks for that category. Following this suggestion, you will be surprised at how much more insight you gain from vendors RFP responses.

Trust is a Pact between a Vendor and Its Customer

There is nothing more disappointing to a consultant than to learn that a project in which you gave significant guidance to a client is experiencing a project meltdown…except maybe having everything get off to a positive start only to falter due to problems with the technologies being implemented. I have been burned several times lately and that surprises me because, as a former software vendor myself, I have pretty deep skepticism when it comes to overblown claims and can usually spot the companies I wouldn’t want my clients to trust. This was not one of them.

It is hard to deal with situations that you didn’t consider likely. A big one is a broken promise, even if it is implicit, not explicit. For a vendor to deliver a solid CMS product with a buggy search interface to toggle between keyword and metadata search is one thing. My client spent months getting it to work so that users could seek by keyword or on explicit metadata fields. They rolled it out and it was “OK,” if not great. But after much discussion with the vendor about the bugs, my client was pressured into adopting an upgrade to “solve the problem.” Unfortunately, the upgrade was an experience from hell, but worse was the fact that the old search controls no longer worked and there was no way to search metadata any longer. Having predicated the procurement on being able to search metadata… well, you get the picture.

What happened to the old motto of “first do no harm?” In my world that means you never release an “upgrade” that subtracts functionality. In the words of my client, “we consider this a major regression.” I consider it a serious breach of trust between them and the supplier but also between me and my client. Why would they ever trust my guidance about the solidness of a vendor again? Guess I have my work cut out for me to find some recourse for my client.

On a much more positive note, I will be offering commentary on the subject of trust and technology solutions when I participate in my first Gilbane Webinar with Oracle’s Brian Dirking, Wednesday, October 10th. The title is The Trust Factor: Secure Enterprise Search for High-Value Content and it will include some key considerations when considering your path to a successful search implementation. I’m still optimistic and enthusiastic that you can implement an excellent search solution for your organization if you really chose your strategy, your technology and your business partners carefully and I’m teaming with Oracle to reinforce that message.

It is free, so click on the title to sign up, even if you are in the beginning stages of your quest for a search product. I hope you will join us for the discussion.

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