two people fencing
PHOTO: Micaela Parente

In today’s technology-saturated world, if a workplace hasn’t yet faced a major technology implementation or upgrade, it’s only a matter of time. When that happens, either the business or the technology vendor will determine how the relationship develops … who writes the script so to speak. 

While that may sound like a distinction without a difference, it is a vital component of whether the workplace will end up in a better place at reasonable cost or … 

The technology side — meaning the firms that sell their own products and those that integrate and extend others’ products into workplace environments — often come to the meeting with a predictable strategy and a largely pre-written script: “what we do best is what you need most!” When the technology side determines the process, every description, every demonstration and every answer to every question will amplify that strategy. While some workplaces may meet that vendor’s very specific premise, the statistics on IT project success and failure suggest that most do not — and the tech community knows it.

Pushing a prospect to buy products that likely won’t adequately meet their needs, while perhaps somewhat unethical, isn’t illegal. Companies are in business to sell what they have. So if a prospect buys those ill-suited tech products, it has only itself to blame, caveat emptor after all. 

The workplace must put itself in position to know what will and will not achieve its functional and organizational goals at the best possible price. If it finds itself looking at its future through the lens of what the technology providers offer and demonstrate, it may end up no better off than where it started, and with major damage to its bank account.

So what to do?

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1. Know What You Need

You wouldn’t buy into a high-stakes card game without first knowing the rules of the game, and you shouldn’t enter a workplace-technology interaction unless you know what it will take to win. A workplace doesn’t succeed based on how many bells and whistles its technology has, but rather when technology acts as a tool to support its business objectives. Although often ignored, this has always been true and is no less so today, even with the explosion of technology options we face.

So the first phase of any move to new technology should be the development of a clear, detailed yet succinct description of the current environment, what is and is not working well and what, in functional terms, must be done to improve it. The end product of this effort is a clear and detailed understanding of what your business objectives are and what transactions are part of the process of reaching them. This understanding, although it may profit from support by technology, is a functional roadmap to how and where technology can best contribute.

This won’t be easy and may not be quick, but without it, the entire procurement effort is in the dark and prey to any slick presentation that comes along. Many organizations simply do not have the staff resources to conduct such an investigation and end up hiring outside resources to help them, an approach which makes sense if the outsider understands and can work with the functional and organizational elements.

When you know, and can articulate clearly, what you must do, it’s time to face the tech community. It’s worth mentioning that organizations completing this level of self-analysis often find their current environment can be improved without new or different technology.

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2. Face Tech Vendors on Your Terms

Most organizations attempt to do this with a Request for Proposal (RFP), asking tech vendors to offer what they have based on an often too-short summary of needs. While this makes sense in certain  situations, it often generates responses far afield from the real needs of the requester, including responses from vendors who should opt out but respond anyway because nobody in the sales department wants to be accused of ignoring opportunities (the ones you don’t bid on are always the ones you would have won).

Instead, in many if not most cases, the most effective way of communicating with tech vendors is the Request for Information or RFI. This form allows the requester to describe, in whatever detail makes sense, the functional challenges he is facing and to ask the vendor what he can do to address them. The RFI often bypasses the vendor’s sales department and goes to the technical group for analysis and response.

The result is usually fewer responses, most often from vendors who can offer something that makes sense for the requester and that provides more useful information about exactly how the vendor will address the requester’s challenges. It also forms the basis for a contract that commits the vendor to support for the functional needs described in the RFI.  If the vendor’s products don’t perform as promised, that contract can be a lifesaver.

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3. Make a Buy or No-Buy Decision

From among the responses, the requester can identify the most relevant and either prepare a formal RFP based on the information each vendor provided, or where a single vendor’s response is clearly best, simply move forward without an RFP process, always with the caveat that the selected vendor will be considered only if its offering meets the solution it described in its RFI response and it is willing to commit to delivery.

The goal is clearly to plug the appropriate technology into the organization’s functional needs instead of mapping those needs to the strengths of the technology vendor community. The alarmingly high percentage of workplace technology projects that fail make it clear that this doesn’t happen often enough.

But it can happen, and technology can provide answers — as long as you ask the right questions.