Posted by: S R Balasubramanian
education, procurement, request for proposal (RFP), vendor evaluation
Procurement is one of the prominent tasks undertaken by a CIO regularly. In order to get ahead with his program, he has to constantly procure new hardware, software, network solutions, and services. Poor bloke; he goes about this difficult task and often gets entangled with the host of options thrown at him. Well equipped to deal with this he finds his way out and has the last laugh.
A few, however, bite their finger nails and look around for help. I have often received calls from my friends asking me how I dealt with a particular situation. Their dilemma is understandable. Vendors and media hurl jargons, shout from rooftops about new technology solutions, and send mailers to all including the CEOs. Sometimes the CIO is forced to look at a technology offering that either he or the vendor representatives know little about. One way to get through this problem is to do a detailed study, ask specific questions to vendors and ask them to convince how the solution would benefit the organization, once the need is defined by the company. A document in the form of RFP (request for proposal), clearly stating the objective, can be of great help.
Receiving the proposal and going through it is another challenge. Many a times vendors stretch the solution and increase the scope and it is here that the CIO applies his clear sense of propriety and calls in the vendor to stay within the limits of the actual requirement. However you cannot prevent the vendors from exercising their ingenuity in suggesting to us better solutions and this surely is to be appreciated. When receiving proposals from vendors, care has to be taken to see that main parts of the proposals are similar and only some specific areas are put up as value-adds, as otherwise it may become difficult to compare and evaluate the solution for decision making.
Juggling with the proposals is, again, a difficult task. We usually prepare a comparison sheet tabling features and the corresponding responses from each vendor. Most of the responses, however, look similar and we then have to draw out our decisions from the responses that go in favor of one or those points which go against the other. Here again, assigning weightages to various points could help as all features may not be of the same significance. There are also some qualitative measures that need separate treatment. So notes and explanation serve the purpose of supporting the decision that we make.
It makes a lot of sense to call in the parties for free discussion and clarify whatever queries that we have. Sometimes our own understanding could be at fault and therefore need to be whetted. A great advantage of open discussion is that each vendor brings in his perspective and says a word or two about the rival product. This brings in greater insight and opens up more points for discussion and evaluation. Of whatever I know of technology, a lot is due to vendors, who have given me free education during such meetings. An in-depth knowledge of technology makes our judgment surer and steps that we take to implement such technologies go in the right direction.
We may select one of the products/ vendors out of the whole lot that we evaluate. Vendors losing out are sore and feel that the evaluation has not been fair. It is a good practice to call the vendors not selected and explain to them the basis of their decision. Vendors may or may not agree with you but at least they go with the message that there was some logic applied to the selection. By doing so I have been able to retain my relationship with vendors over the years.