You’ve scouted the market, reviewed as much marketing collateral as one person’s brain can handle, you’ve long listed, then short-listed suppliers. You’ve been through demonstrations by multiple vendors and you think you’ve found the tool that could work for you. You’ve agreed terms, got sign off across the business and have an implementation plan in place. 3-6-12-18 months go by and the further down the project cycle you’ve gone the more you’re realising this tool doesn’t quite work in the way you had envisaged, and to get the tool to work in the way you need it to is going to be costly and time consuming.
Every business I’ve ever worked with or in has a tale along these lines, and the crux of the issue is that many off the shelf tools whilst capable in many areas require customisation to fit in with broader business systems.
The marketers and sales people associated with these tools will know the limitations of their offerings, and knowingly or not they often sell around these issues. However by leaving these weaknesses to be discovered once the project is in flight can break the hard earned trust between client and vendor. The issue is, that by this point the client is heavily invested into this tool and the time, money, and cost associated with losing face amongst their wider business is often to unpalatable, and they need to make the best of what they’ve got.
It doesn’t matter how detailed the discovery phase will have been, there will always be unknowns and things that cannot be foreseen. With an off the shelf product, having the ability to flex to meet these changes and challenges can often require months of waiting for features as they work their way through a product roadmap that the client has minimal influence over.
This is often the point where relations between vendor and client can become most strained. Things that were overlooked at the sales stage are now causing issues with the project implementation, and the time to resolve issues can run into weeks or months. A good project manager and a pragmatic steering committee can at times resolve the issues and come to an agreeable compromise. However it’s not uncommon for this to be the point where the relationship becomes irreparably broken.
Clients can be just as guilty of selling around their issues too.
Every business has constraints; time, budgets, resources, politics, and these can all place strains on a project. By not giving vendors insight into what’s going on within the business it’s challenging for a vendor to make the best recommendations.
The most successful projects I have worked on have benefited from openness on both sides akin to a genuine partnership. By putting the project and the overall success ahead of more selfish goals helps to get things done faster and to a higher level of quality than would other be achieved. Whilst I acknowledge this is a worst case scenario it’s a scenario that in many cases would have been avoided by upfront honesty by all parties.
There is however another option, whilst off the shelf products can give a lot of the functionality you’re looking for, it’s very rare that they will cover all scenarios or integrate with other critical business systems as required out of the box.
Building bespoke software can become much more efficient.
By working together to build a solution that meets the exacting and often evolving needs of a business you know that what you’re getting is fit for purpose. Whilst the up-front cost can seem high, very often the total cost of ownership of a bespoke solution will be lower than an off the shelf or licenced product.
Key to making this decision and investment pay off however, is having a dependable supplier you can rely on and who will make decisions which are best for you and your business. This is often where the very large consultancies and off-shore teams are weakest. It’s about finding a supplier that has the right experience and credentials to meet your need and remembering that biggest isn’t always best when it comes to bespoke software.
Whatever path you choose to take, be sure to get references from the suppliers existing clients, and don’t be afraid to ask them awkward questions. Every project will have had issues, and the difference between a good and bad supplier is how they help to work past, rather than sell around these issues. Ask who was involved in the project, and how they were to deal with on a personal and professional level. Did their delivery match up with the sales pitch? What went well and what could have gone better? Why did they choose that supplier? Why was the project successful? What did they do to make the process as easy as possible? What would they recommend to do differently if they were to use this supplier again?
This kind of due diligence can help ensure any issues that may have been skirted around in the sales and marketing collateral doesn’t come to roost in your own project and are confronted early.