Some of you may be old enough to remember the Paul Simon
song “50 ways to leave your lover”. The chorus went something like this:

“You just slip out

the back, Jack

Make a new plan, Stan

You don’t need to be coy, Roy

Just get yourself free

Hop on the bus, Gus

You don’t need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee

And get yourself free.”

Unfortunately in this day and age, leaving your lover just

might be easier than leaving your vendor, particularly if you have developed a

relationship over time and their product or products are intertwined throughout

your organization and infrastructure. This is something that vendors that are

trying to woo you often gloss over when they are offering you a competing

product at a bargain price. I had a vendor in my office just the other day, and

they were telling me just how easy it would be to transition from their competitor’s

product to their own. It sounded so simple and elegant, and they assured me

that they would “be there for me” to help me through the transition. Right. And

if I believe that, I should have “all-day sucker” tattooed on my forehead.

The fact of the matter is that making a significant change

in a product that is in use in your organization can be more difficult to

extricate yourself from than a tar pit—particularly if it means a big loss of revenue

to a vendor. A perfect example is the state of Massachusetts’ attempt to go with

an open document format. Clearly, Microsoft did not want that happening. But

this is certainly not limited to Microsoft. Any indication to a vendor that

they may be replaced can scale from verbal protests, to lawsuits to having your

service cut off. So, if you are considering such a shift, you’ll need to do a

lot of careful planning.

The first place to start is with your contract (if you have

one) with the particular vendor you now want to replace. We often tend to gloss

over terms and conditions when signing on the dotted line, but those can come

back to haunt you when it’s time to say goodbye. So get out the magnifying

glass and make friends with your general counsel to get their opinion on any

gotchas that may be buried in the contract.

Second, do a thorough in-house analysis of the reach of the

particular product or products that you want to sunset. Don’t be myopic in your

evaluation by just looking at your department. You need to comb the entire

organization not once, but numerous times, to make sure that you know who could

be affected by the change.

Third, determine if the transition is going to be an all-at-once

transition or a phased transition. This can depend on a number of variables,

including the type of product or services being let go/introduced as well as

funding streams, organizational preparedness, the size of the undertaking, etc.

If it truly is going to be an all-at-once transition, you need to try and keep

things quiet to avoid pre-emptive strikes by your soon-to-be-spurned lover and

feel confident that you have the power to deal with any retaliation or

disruption that might arise from an unhappy provider. Here are a few tips:

  1. Assign
    someone to manage the transition project – this is not a spare-time job.
  2. Communicate

    with those who are going to be affected and get their input in the

    planning process.

  3. Review
    the project plan and particularly stress looking for dependencies.
  4. Review

    it again for dependencies and make sure you have done a risk analysis and

    have identified contingency options for all possible behavior.

  5. Buy
    some antacid.
  6. Get
    management sign off and move forward.

Even with careful planning, this kind of change can be

challenging at the least, and nightmarish at the worst. However, your planning

efforts should pay dividends in the success of the project. Thorough planning should

mitigate the worst problems (and something always seems to crop up that is

problematic), while lack of planning can get you into hot water real fast.

How long will the process take? It depends on the scope and

how intertwined the product is in your organization’s operations. Some things

can be done practically overnight and remain almost totally transparent to

users, while other times, it can take years to finally rid yourself of the last

vestiges of a vendor. The good news is that when you are done, you don’t have

to pay alimony…or maybe you do. How closely did you read your terms and