Procuring Technology is a Team Effort

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Isn’t it fascinating how technology has changed over the years?  From those big, cumbersome IBM machines (that originally didn’t even fit into a NASA room, as dramatised in the film Hidden Figures) to each of us walking around with a computer multiple times more powerful in our pocket or bag, disguised as a smartphone.  

Technology in the workplace can be such an enabler. Think even on a micro scale of your working life: our predecessors using abacuses, the wonderful Casio calculators of my youth and how you can now quickly create formulae in Microsoft Excel to efficiently give a mathematical answer. But it can also be very complicated and (if you don’t buy technology of any sort regularly) daunting to think about how to get the best use of what is often a large investment in both time and money.   

I have bought or supported the purchase of many digital solutions over the years for a variety of businesses and seen the highs and lows of these projects. I would like to share some pointers if you are thinking of using technology to enhance your bid team’s functionality – especially if you are not a regular technology buyer.  

First: if your business is big enough to have a technology team, give them a call.  Why?  Let’s explore how they can help you:   

  • Technology projects can be complicated and unforeseen time and money can add up quite quickly. Your tech colleagues can explain how your potential system or tool might link to the company’s existing technology infrastructure and also what your company may have planned in the tech space for the future.  There might even be an existing solution that can be tailored to meet your needs, avoiding double sourcing or wasted time and effort.   
  • They will be a great source of information. They will help you explore the scope of support requirements, who will own the technology solution and who will provide front line support if something goes wrong (e.g., the technology is installed but not working). Key questions/considerations include:  
    • What service level do you need from the system?   
    • Will your IT department or the supplier provide support?   
    • How will you contact them?   
    • What is acceptable for “downtime” and “fix time” when you won’t have full or partial access (i.e., do you have time in the midst of a pitch to wait a couple of days whilst they sort it all out)?   
    • Who is going to administer the solution for you (i.e., not just keep the product itself up to date but also the information held in it and how you can access it in a consistent and easy way)? 
  • They may also help you review the service or terms you will have to accept if you buy a standard product or determine how much of your own team’s time will be needed to customise the solution for best results.  

Second: if you have a procurement team, engage them as well. A good procurement colleague can help you write the detailed specification for both the initial buy and the ongoing governance. They can also help you determine the best commercial model (i.e., how you will pay for this), identify market suppliers and ensure you know how to  objectively and simply write criteria to select the right supplier for you and your company.  They may even be your critical friend to challenge some of your thinking as you build up your requirements.   

There are many other colleagues (e.g., data protection, legal, information security, etc) who should be involved in this type of project. If your company does not include these roles, you should consider bringing in external expertise (even temporarily) to ensure your choice is fit for purpose. 

In any case, make sure you write out the specification in clear, simple language without too much technical jargon.  Think long and hard about the skills your team will need to use this product, and whether they will be capable straight away or will require training from the supplier to help them implement and manage the service. Be sure to write these requirements into your specification.  

In my experience, relationships with suppliers often fail due to lack of expectations being met and/or lack of documented and followed governance between the supplier and the client.  Spending the time and energy upfront to define what you want and to be clear on accountabilities and responsibilities (not just with the supplier but also internally within your company) goes a long way to mitigate some of that risk.  I wish you luck with your project!  

This article was written by Beth Wallace.

Beth has worked in a number of sectors, starting out in aerospace manufacturing but also working in financial services, media, hospitality and legal to name a few. Her career has spanned both negotiating deals as well as managing supplier relationships, from simple projects to complex outsourcing.

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