Web Blast Extra: High Tech
Cutting Through The Bull — Patrol Car Technology
From The November/December 2009 High Tech Column
By Jim Donahue
THE IMPORTANT STUFF
What’s truly important is for you to gather as much information as possible about how well the prospective vendor has made and kept other agencies happy. If the company is a class act, they’ll share their successes and where they’ve failed. They should also be able to tell you the steps they’ve taken to prevent another failure. If all the vendor wants is to take your money then walk away, they’ll do everything possible to hide their dark underbelly. They’ll try to dissuade you from learning the truth and they’ll claim they’ve never failed; not much different from a suspect in an interview room, they’ll try to hide their real skin.
Having worked in the software industry, I’m aware of how customer orders and requests are handled and tracked. When a new sale is made, the company creates a master file. Some call it a project, a case or an order. Orders usually have many tasks beneath, that when all are completed will result in a completed sale. If you sell mobile client software, the job would be to implement their software in a fleet of police cars. Some of the tasks would be: configuring the software for the agency, creating the connection (interface) to NCIC and the state and local systems, creating the interface to the CAD system, etc. All the tasks must be completed before the sale is finished.
Here are ten questions a prospective vendor should be asked to answer at the point where you’re giving them serious consideration. Like asking for references, these questions seek the agency names along with a personal contact of existing customers that meet certain criteria. It’s important you get the name of people whom you can contact at each agency. The questions are in no particular order.
Has your company ever had a customer cancel a project (order) before the implementation was completed? Please provide a list of all such occurrences in the past three years.
Has your company lost a customer after the implementation was complete? Please provide a list of all such occurrences in the past three years.
Has your company ever lost the award of business offered in a Request For Proposal? Please provide a list of all such occurrences in the past two years.
With what three agencies has your company had the longest working relationship as customers?
What two projects/cases/orders in your organization have been open/unresolved the longest? Please identify the agencies involved.
Identify at least three customers in this region who are using the products you have recommended for us. It’s important the project/case/order has been complete for at least one year.
How many completed interfaces to other software does your company have in its existing library? What software producers/products are these interfaces written? Please provide a list.
How many interfaces to other software are in development at this time? What software producers/products are these interfaces written? Please provide a list.
How many open implementation projects/cases/orders does your company have at this time? What is their average age since date of order?
How many projects/cases/orders were opened in the last year for repair or bug fixes?
It can be argued these questions, if answered truthfully, will reveal information (in some cases) the proposed vendor would rather not discuss. But, just like a marriage, it’s important to enter the relationship with your eyes wide open. You probably don’t have the same time or desire to spend picking a vendor that you took choosing your spouse. Well, maybe. But the important thing is to ferret out as much information as you can about the vendor so you aren’t surprised later on.
There are far too many stories of vendors who turn deaf and dumb once they’ve received the customer’s payment. You need someone who’ll remain responsive even after they’ve gotten their money. One last warning, don’t think putting language in a contract threatening legal action for failure to complete the job is a fail-safe — it’s not. If you get to that point there’ll be all kinds of pressure to work things out rather than sue. Your local officials won’t want the negative publicity, the legal people won’t want the additional case load and no one will want to look like they made a mistake in choosing this vendor. It’s better to do your homework at the front end so the chance of getting quality on the back end is improved.
That’s my .02 worth. Your mileage may vary.
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