Selecting a System Backward

(The Teleconvergence approach to System Selection, Part 2)

The Usual Approach is Usually Wrong. Unfortunately.

When most organizations begin selecting systems, services, or software to satisfy business objectives, they generally go about it backward.

They begin by researching different vendors and systems. They collect physical brochures or download PDFs.  They read reviews and user comments. They contact multiple vendors who schedule multiple visits or host multiple conference calls and steer the prospective buyer to multiple on-line demos and whitepapers and webinars.

If vendors are local and the prospect is important enough, each vendor will conduct multiple interviews of management and staff.  Each vendor then ultimately submits a bid or proposal, none of which is really comparable to the others.

At that point, the prospective buyer, now fully saturated if not precariously overloaded with facts and figures, attempts to make a rational and informed decision and finds he or she simply can't. Why?  Why can't a prospective customer simply decide?

Because there's really nothing to hang a reasoned decision on and feel confident about the decision. There's nothing wrong with the prospective buyer.  Instead, it's the prospective buyer's process that's at fault.  And the reason the process is faulty is because it's been conducted backward.

By beginning with available solutions, the prospective buyer unknowingly omits adequate consideration of actual needs, issues, and conflicts, regardless of whether any immediately gratifying solution adequately addresses the situation.

It's the buyer's fault only when he or she insistently repeats the same process over and over again and expects different results. Feel free to re-read the foregoing to fix the usual process in your mind, then pledge you’ll never do it again. Unless you simply enjoy beating your head against the wall.

So how can you avoid these problems in the future? You can’t avoid them. Instead, you prevent them from happening by changing your process.

Why The Usual process Doesn't Produce the Desired Results

Because different vendors offer products and services with different capabilities, each vendor stresses different solutions or system aspects.  Also, each vendor asks different questions, the answers to which naturally play to that vendor's strengths.  At the same time, unfortunately, vital questions may go unasked to avoid exposing product weaknesses.

Similarly, all vendors won't be able to ask their different questions and interview the same employees in the same exact order and encounter the same moods. As a result, the questions asked and the responses given, and especially the information gained by the prospective buyer, will not be consistent from vendor to vendor, from interview to interview, or from day to day.  How could it not be confusing for the buyer?

Further, each potential vendor deliberately monopolizes as much of management and employee interview and on-line time as possible to discourage equally comprehensive attention from being paid to other vendors.  It works.  Most managers and their staff increasingly (and justifiably) come to regard the questionnaires and demos and interviews and rest of the process as intrusive time-wasters.  Employees, especially, spend less time and respond more superficially as each successive session creates greater fatigue. The obvious result is that, again, the information given and received by vendors, employees, and management will not be consistent from vendor to vendor nor from day to day.

Is it any wonder that a rational decision is not easily forthcoming?

Worse, if some requirements cannot be met by the first vendor or two evaluated, then client management (consciously or not) inevitably begins reworking the requirements to make them more easily satisfied. This is not only unfair to the initial vendors, it also prejudices the entire situation because the original requirements become redefined in the later vendors' favor.

So what happens?

The Usual Results From the Usual Process (Again, Unfortunately)

Result 1. The most common result is that the prospect receives great quantities of material and proposals offering widely differing alternatives that may nor may not constitute an acceptable solution because the requirements themselves have become a shifting target.

Result 1A.  At the same time, the prospective customer remembers his or her oft-repeated history of receiving overinflated promises and underwhelming results and doesn’t know what to believe, even when it is understandable.

Result 2. Equally commonly, the prospective buyer ends up with incompatible and non-comparable proposals. It's apples and oranges, yes, but there's also an electric motor and some clothing and... Modern technology indeed presents many, many alternative ways to achieve virtually anything. The prospective buyer just wants to make an informed decision, and is dismayed to realize that he or she has no way to get to there from here

Result 3. And so, being unable to make a valid decision, the prospect (a) does nothing or (b) settles for the least expensive option (and you know what happens then), or (c) goes with the proposal that he or she understands the best, even though it is inadequate and unsatisfactory and clearly doesn't meet the organization's needs.

Result 4. Almost any system decision becomes theoretically acceptable if one lowers one's expectations enough.  However, justifying an unacceptable or inadequate alternative by calling it marginally OK makes it neither acceptable nor OK and the organization will suffer the consequences of that decision for years to come. Or at least until the process is repeated.

Result 5. Each vendor has its own technology and its own evolution strategy that calls for replacing whatever it offers today with something else in a few years, whether it's broken or obsolete or not.  To some degree, most business executives realize that to follow a vendor's strategy, they must also agree to to proceed on the same route as the vendor, keep going in the same direction, endure delays caused by vendor errors, and agree throughout to head for the same destination.

And Always Remember: The probability that any vendor -- even a so-called valuable strategic partner -- has the exact same business priorities, objectives, strategies, and direction as you is precisely zero.


What Can Be Salvaged From the Process? Not Much.

Unfortunately, once a prospect has obtained such a stack of non-comparable proposals, there is very little useful that can be done with them. Teleconvergence has been asked many times to evaluate such collections of material. We've always refused, and for two good reasons.

First, we will doubtless find them more non-comparable than you.

Secondly, just from reading such biased information (which is what a vendor proposal really is and should be), how are we supposed to understand your real technical and operating needs, your financial situation, and your business and strategic opportunities? 

Since we obviously wouldn't know what you need, why should you act on anything we might say? Honestly, would you trust any doctor's second opinion without first undergoing a thorough examination?

At this point you're doubtless thinking, "Surely, there must be a better way." There is, and we'd like to describe it to you now.