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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

A new year brings new approaches to vendor selection

The key to successful vendor selection is finding companies that can deliver quality IT solutions on-time and within budget. Most agencies prefer to work with companies that have already completed quality work for them or that have worked in a similar capacity with other government agencies.

But once that box is checked, then what? How can agencies ensure vendors will share the same sensibilities on mission focus, sense of urgency, integration management, workforce morale and cost controls?

Roughly 80% of government spending no longer goes through the traditional bid/RFP process. Agency procurement officers, CIOs and CTOs have an array of other purchasing options, including: sole source, piggyback, purchasing cards, set-asides, General Services Administration schedules, state contracts, co-ops and discretionary spend thresholds (if they qualify). This gives IT buyers more access to more vendors and solutions.  

Below are a list of do's and don’ts for agencies looking to minimize risk when choosing a vendor for IT solutions.

1. Do look for a partner vs. a vendor.

Agencies should seek vendors who are looking to partner with them and not just win a government contract to increase their company’s sales. Try to detect if the company is only  saying what you want to hear or if it is looking for a long-term relationship.

To help uncover a vendor’s true motivations, ask the sales rep these questions: Does your company have a dedicated government team? How many different government agencies has your company worked with?  How long has your company been working with government clients? What percentage of your company’s staff work-on government deployments?

The responses will provide strong indicators as to whether or not the company is dedicated to the government market.

2. Don’t prioritize price over value.

Costs are always important, but paying less in the short term could cost more in the long term. Too many times agencies focus on vendors with the lowest initial cost and don’t fully consider factors that may increase the overall price like quality issues, service disruptions and system downtime. 

Find out if prospective vendors are equipped to handle unexpected challenges -- from technology integration, to workforce staffing, to new compliance regulations -- which are likely to happen (especially over a multiyear contract). Ask them to share past experiences where they were required to reroute an implementation because of “bumps” along the way or threat intrusions. Check to see whether vendors had a back-up plan ready to go or if they had to scramble to fulfill the contract? How they respond will reveal much about their price vs. value ratio.

3. Do look for a company with a local presence.

Remote assistance by phone, online chats, even video check-ins is great when things are running smoothly, but nothing says real-time support like a dedicated specialist who can be on-site at a moment’s notice. Whether it is a local company or a national brand with a local office, it can be a major benefit to have the team assigned to your contract located in the same area so on-site assistance for both hardware and software can be easily realized.

4. Don’t ignore personality fit.

Yes, laughing at your jokes does matter. Tech contractors have a scope of work, but that doesn’t mean the contract will never go off-script. Hacks, viruses, system intrusions and other threats can change the course of work -- even if only for 24 hours. Be sure the vendor's project manager and other key staff are a cultural fit for the agency workforce's pace and culture.

About the Author

Jack Siney is co-founder of GovSpend and formerly served in IT procurement for the U.S. Navy.

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