Why selecting the right ongoing partner is the one decision you can’t afford to make twice.
As we wrapped up Part I of our “Decoding the Right Partner” series, we touched on what the right things to look for within an initial RFP response might look like for “partnership.”
But however, tempting it is to think of a vendor as a short-term relationship–one that will simply get you the software you need–it’s important to think about who you will be working with after it goes live. This is because you can’t simply “switch” software providers, can you? Most vendors “own” their product - so you can’t even maintain the product without first purchasing the source code. But when it comes to new features and changes requests, you will absolutely need a great partner to keep things running smoothly and efficiently into the future as well as to add critical new features and functionality that are designed for your needs - not another jail or correction agency needs.
Luckily, you don’t have to shoot in the dark. There are plenty of ways to evaluate a good partner beginning with the RFP. We will delve into 4 of the top indicators:
- References and reputation
- Understanding your RFP + implementation
- Staffing for implementation and beyond
- Industry involvement
REFERENCES AND REPUTATION
As mentioned in part I, it’s vital to understand what a vendor has delivered in the past. Sure, they can give you a shiny demo of their software, but how is it working in the field? The best and fastest way to confirm a good partner is to speak with their references. Did they not just deliver on time during implementation, but is the software still supporting their needs? You may even wish to do a site visit to see how a specific software is working effectively in another jurisdiction.
In our next installment, we will delve deeper into the potential for the dreaded failed implementation, but this is an essential indicator of a vendor’s reputation. If they have already delivered a working software in one state, you must also explore if they have failed to implement–or are stalled and behind schedule. They may not have included these references within their RFP response (for good reason), but you would be remiss not to track down and reach out to these other partners to hear what issues have arisen. Be careful not to let the vendor imply that it is a holdup on the agency’s part. You’ll want to know if there’s any risk the same situation could happen with your agency.
SHOWING THEY UNDERSTAND YOUR RFP + IMPLEMENTATION
Look closely at their project schedule timeline–does it make sense? Is the vendor just trying to win and match what you put in the RFP as suggestions for implementation–or instead, have they really thought through your RFP and implementation and brought their honest thoughts and insights?
It is common for vendors to submit cookie cutter implementation plans instead of taking their experience to match their services and timeline for implementing them to specifically what was in your RFP. Red flags for a cookie cutter response might look like a timeline looking too long or too short or mentions of functionalities that are vital to your needs are not addressed. Or are they simply “parroting” back what you requested in your RFP?
This is also true when it comes to evaluating their response to the “Requirements Matrix.” When the vendor community knows that points will be deducted from any response that does not have every box checked for “Complies,” they are tempted to check that box even when it might not be true of their product. Our tip? Look for responses that seem genuine and honest when responding and consider giving those who are being forthright stronger scores when evaluating the proposal. If a vendor is not honest in responding to a requirements matrix, imagine how they will perform on a contract. And nothing will hold up your implementation more than finding out a requirement that should be compliant, isn’t.
STAFFING FOR IMPLEMENTATION AND BEYOND
We’ve touched on this briefly, but it’s good to mention again. One partnership trait you can glean from an RFP response is how they plan to support you during implementation. Will the same people who presented to you be available for follow ups and throughout the project? Or are they never to be heard from again?
And specifically: how do they plan to build and staff your implementation? Is it with a big, anonymous team in a faraway office? If so, you may never speak to the same person twice.
Or will they dedicate localized staff, who you can pick up the phone and call with questions on any given day? Continually being present at or near your agency is a vital sign that they take not only the project, but your growing long-term relationship seriously. All of these recommendations are perfect for the reference check to determine did they staff your project with the best JMS/OMS implementation team?
Why is industry involvement such an important factor to consider when it comes to ongoing partnership? Because you know they are interested in having a good industry reputation for the long haul. Also, industry involvement shows they are here to both give back and contribute to ensuring that we have better Public Safety.
Plenty of vendors think that they want to get into certain public sector software divisions to take advantage of an opportunity to grow their business. But we’ve touched on it once and we’ll touch on it again–corrections is an extremely complex industry.
More than just having the knowledge that being intimately familiar with the corrections industry lends to delivering more successful software, there’s simply a reputational factor that cannot be replicated by someone who is just getting started within this sector.
Quite simply: those who are dedicated to improving outcomes for agencies and offenders understand what is at stake in their long-term partnerships. They know the complexities, and are dedicating teams to continually improving on an industry-wide level–not just for their partners. Are they active in supporting the larger goals of the industry? Do they seek out and invite conversations that show they will be continually learning and growing in how to meet the needs of the industry?
In summary, top indicators of a good partner for your RFP and beyond include:
- Solid reputation and extensive positive references, as well as no stalled or failed implementations
- Evidence they have fully thought through your implementation and not simply delivered a cookie cutter response
- Dedicated, accessible staff for your implementation and beyond
- Strong industry presence, with demonstration of commitment to continued growth and dedication to the success of corrections as a whole
Stay Tuned for Part III: Failed Implementation and How to Avoid It