Tech & Work

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!

Editor's Picks