IT Employment

A funny thing happened on the way to selecting software

Actually a few funny things happened during phase one of Jay Rollins' software selection process. Find out how a pushy vendor, Thomas the Tank Engine, and a pizza party factor into the process.

Actually a few funny things happened during phase one of Jay Rollins' software selection process. Find out how a pushy vendor, Thomas the Tank Engine, and a pizza party factor into the process.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I am going through a software selection process for my employer, a health care company. I love to do these types of things so early in my tenure, primarily because it helps us technologists (viewed as industry outsiders in many areas) get involved and truly begin to understand the details of how a business runs.

It is also interesting to see the different approaches of software vendors across different industries. There are many similarities across industries as well, such as the typical sales approaches and confusing licensing scenarios. In a past life, I remember a company asking for maintenance fees for the maintenance fees. That one was classic. Basically, we paid a support contract and then had to pay a maintenance fee on the support contract. I was amazed, but apparently no one ever challenged that vendor before. Common sense is a wonderful thing.

Finding out what's available

Our software selection process is relatively simple (and admittedly selfish). Many of the folks at the various facilities know their day-to-day jobs, but they don't get out much. They don't know about some of the new technologies and how the technologies can impact their jobs.

The first step was to get a core group of folks together and "browse" what is out there. We asked every vendor that focus on the health care space to visit us and provide the team with a four-hour software demonstration. This was just an introduction to the technologies. We wanted to learn a little about the vendors and see what software could make our jobs easier. We were basically looking under the hood.

Narrowing the choices

The initial step provided us the context to objectively determine what was most important. The features that addressed current pain points, improved Medicare reimbursements the most, improved reporting and forecasting capabilities, etc. Then, we planned the usual, more in-depth and scripted demonstrations with two finalists and proceeded with the customer interviews, the financial viability deep dive, and the pricing discussions prior to selection and implementation.

Lessons learned… with a few laughs along the way

So far, it has been interesting. During the process, we clearly communicate that we are just kicking tires and trying to understand what is out there; we are a long way away from selection, so vendors, invest appropriately. And most vendors did; they saw this step for what it was and provided exactly what we asked. One did not. This company was more high maintenance than my ex. The vendor wanted a tour or to talk to the CEO and COO and every member of the team. In fact, talking to the team was a condition of whether they would participate in the process. Org charts, documents… you name it, the company wanted it.

Frankly, I had not budgeted a lot of time on this step because the heavy lifting was going to occur in the next few phases. I probably used a full two or three days to provide this vendor with what they needed; in comparison, I think I used maybe four hours total for the other four vendors in the process. I tried to tell myself that the vendor only wanted to provide the best view of their product. I just didn't understand their level of investment given the description of our process. Ah well… lesson learned. The next time a vendor wants to impose their process on us instead of the other way around, I'll tell them to take a hike.

Then there was a demonstration that took kind of a weird turn. In an effort to show how we (IT, nursing, finance, compliance, and software vendor) work together, the sales rep pulled out a wooden bridge from a Thomas the Tank Engine set and proceeded to point to the five pieces of the bridge. IT and finance were the support, nursing and compliance were the ramps, and the software vendor was the bridge that pulled it all together. I had never seen anything like that before, and I was at a loss for words.

And, I had one conversation with a vendor about support scenarios. We scheduled a needed update with the vendor's engineering team, and when we called support, they were at some sort of pizza party and couldn't help us until later that afternoon. A critical system is down, our business has stopped, and you can't get a support person out of an office pizza party to help us? When I presented this story to the sales team, they actually laughed and said "Welcome to health care."

I was happy to find out that it is not like that in health care. In fact, I found something very interesting with some of the software vendors in this space. Sure, they got in the business to make money, but many of the processes within some of these systems go above and beyond the typical billing efficiencies and CYA regulatory compliance. Some of them built capabilities with a focus on providing easy-to-use tools to make patient stays better. No financial incentive could have helped make a business case to add some of these features, but they are there. It could be related to many of the not-for-profit companies in the space, but there is definitely a different attitude from some of these software companies.

To be continued

Moving on to phase two. Hopefully, the rest of the software selection process will be predictable. I'll report back on how it goes.

Please share your stories about the software selection process in the discussion.

Get leadership tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Leadership newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Thursday, features blogs, white papers, and other resources for IT managers and CIOs. You'll receive advice on staffing, morale, dealing with day-to-day challenges, and much more. Automatically sign up today!
13 comments
Al Plastow
Al Plastow

Your group has managed to avoid the number one problem that enterprises use when acquiring software--or, for that matter, any other technology assets: Too often, we purchase based on vendor and media hype--or worse, an article in some in-flight magazine--instead of a good solid business needs analysis. Defining your unique needs and expectations is a great move. Utilizing supplier presentations is also a good way to get "up to speed" in terms of what's available. However, watch out..."potential" functionality is the norm rather than the exception. A majority of software licenses specifically state that the product as delivered does not have to adhere to ANY specific level of functionality. AND: The license terms and conditions will supercede any presentation or verbal demonstration of functionality. My advice to any enterprise entering into a license agreement is to create a very comprehensive list of functionality/criteria that you expect from this product. Make it clear--in writing--that the supplied product must meet those criteria and that it WILL be fully tested to ensure it meets the criteria BEFORE paying the invoice. Also, in writing, establish a life cycle monitoring process where you track the quality of the product and related services. If you're good, you can even include a cost reduction for ongoing tech support should you encounter problems you consider significant. Unfortunately, the majority of enterprises has been "educated" to believe that software licenses are not mutually beneficial contracts. Failing to define and enforce delivered business value criteria continues to have a significant negative impact on IT budgeting. You may also negotiate a perpetual license clause into the agreement--another enormous cost savings and value add. (Sorry if I've over-simplified. You probably already knew all of this...) Feel free to connect with questions.

KSoniat
KSoniat

I enjoyed reading your experiences on selecting software and found it struck a note on a personal level in dealing with sales people and their agenda. We've been trying to sell our house and have recently taken it off the market, away from a realtor and placed it back up ourselves at a lower rate - without the realtor fee. We are flooded with realtor calls wating to "help us out" and how to "appropriately stage our home". After 1.5 years with a realtor we know what they will say - and we've had others look at it in previous years and using their advice have paved the driveway and done other upgrades. One rather pushy realtor who only left her name, but not her company when she left a message wants to come out to the house. I told her we would not list with her. She said she "couldn't sell the house without seeing it first". If I took an hour for each realtor who called I would never get anything else done. I was leaning toward this anyway - but your article firmed my resolve: Under those conditions I do not want her to sell my house - because the cost to me (time) is too high. I'll invite her out when we have an open house, but at my schedule not hers. Maybe I should give her the Thomas the Tank Engine example. She is a toll bridge, but I have an alternate route that does not require any payment at all. :)

sidekick
sidekick

"Some of them built capabilities with a focus on providing easy-to-use tools to make patient stays better. No financial incentive could have helped make a business case to add some of these features, but they are there." I'm not an expert in business or health care, so please correct me if i'm wrong, but if you could get a tool that allowed you to deliver better service to your customer (in this case, patients), there by making you more competitive, isn't that the business csae right there?

GregWalters
GregWalters

This is great! I imagine it really doesn't matter if it's software, hardware or Managed Print Services. This is the best quote, "...The next time a vendor wants to impose their process on us instead of the other way around, I?ll tell them to take a hike..." CISCO, HP and others make this the PARAMOUNT issue - get your prospect into your process. You nailed it.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

And the CD costs $300.When I play one of your songs it sounds real clicky and stops.My friend says that there's adjustments in the program that you can make.You would have to be an engineering professor to understand it.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Back in 1990 I had the opportunity to ask why a person selected MS Word instead of WordPerfect for a $500 million a year corporation. Remember, this was back in the days that WordPerfect still had 80% of the wordprocessing market. His answer was simple, he liked the menu in MS Word for DOS better than WordPerfect because it was closer in look and feel to Lotus 123 which was his first PC app. Cool, as good a reason as any to make a decision for future 5000 users.

nitin.cunha
nitin.cunha

The decision process is supposed to be about doing due diligence and then making an informed decision. The reality is you must negotiate internal agendas, eager vendors donning espressos and expensive suits and the marketing folk who are trying to justify their budget by herding targets to their sales people. So if you start by assuming that only you are interested in the project success and everybody else is only interested in their piece of the pizza, then you can easily create the terms upon which your project's success will be measured today by categorizing/prioritizing everybody else's interests. If your CEO/COO has a longterm plan and keeps a watchful eye on industry constraints (i.e. legislation, regulation, medical IT direction) then you may also be able to build into your project the terms that will make it successful for the future.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The article doesn't reference CDs or songs at all. Seriously, consider increasing your dosage.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

.

rtetrev
rtetrev

....I was involved in the software selection process once. The final decision, done by my techo-klutz boss, was based on the snazzy box. Sad thing was, the new product we got was far worse than the product we were trying to replace. This happens to all "?software consumers", borh CompUSA customers and businesses of all sizes. The lesson: marketing lies.

Editor's Picks