Maximize relationships with software providers
Given their complexity, contracts for software procurement, such as human resources and finance management applications for administration, are weighted by more than just price. A purchase of this type requires that government agencies recognize how to get the most value from their software providers. The procurement contract should signal the beginning of a productive relationship, not the end of a transaction.
Purchasing professionals are in a prime position to help administrators recognize the value of maintaining an open relationship over the life of their software—typically seven to 10 years—and benefit from efficiencies in time, staff, consulting and other resources.
Initiate a productive relationship
During the “courtship” phase of the RFP process, agencies gain an intimate knowledge of the providers’ products and level of service while the providers learn the agencies’ operational processes, business needs and goals, resulting in strategic recommendations.
Recommending that agencies build upon this foundation and initial investment of time and resources can help them understand the nuances of the software support and service contract and enable them to use the contract to their best advantage.
Advise scheduling monthly service calls, training appointments, software upgrades and other negotiated value-added services on the calendar. Unfortunately, many organizations underutilize their service contracts and lose out on the benefits they deserve. A disciplined approach to revisiting the contract regularly—for example, once per quarter—can ensure that agencies use the services they are paying for and learn where to sharpen future negotiations.
Clients can form a steering committee comprised of department heads and information technology staff that meets monthly or bimonthly to review plans, make decisions and ensure that the system is being used as expected.
Additionally, a steering committee can review proposed systems enhancements and requests for custom programming and ensure that all requests are warranted and financially justified.
Open communication channels
For productive, long-term administrative solutions, procurement departments and agencies need to communicate openly and regularly with their software providers. Encourage agencies to look beyond the standard troubleshooting calls and take the time to discuss new features and upgrades from which they can benefit. Schedule an annual conference call—or two—to discuss what works, what needs to be changed and future goals or considerations. Compile a “wish list” of functions that could simplify their workday.
As a result, the provider can ask the appropriate questions that will deliver the suitable solution for HR or finance management, for example, or the chance to research and create a custom solution. As technologies evolve, so can the agencies’ internal processes, thereby circumventing future expenditures for new software when an outdated system appears beyond repair.
Agencies can benefit significantly by bringing their software experts onboard when they are undertaking a new project or updating a current administrative or payroll process. A phone call to the software provider can eliminate unnecessary frustrations of trial and error so that administrators can learn an efficient approach to simplifying their administrative and operational processes. Some successful agencies schedule regular visits from the software provider, for a fee, to learn what’s new in the software and to learn best practices.
Grow the investment
Encourage agencies to take advantage of any training opportunities to educate new users and help those who have mastered the program to learn new applications or features. Agencies can learn when upgrades are available and, more importantly, if they need them. Today’s savvy providers have free online tools such as Webinars and on-site user conferences and instructional classes to expand the software users’ capabilities and, ultimately, their jobs.
Above all, whenever there are concerns, agencies should not wait until the contract ends to divulge any problems. Actively communicating these concerns will allow the providers to fix the problems and deliver on their commitment for quality software and service.
Growing and maximizing relationships among providers, procurement officers and agencies ensures that all parties are genuinely pleased with the level of quality and commitment to service—without budgetary surprises. Rather than hunting for new providers every few years, evolving operations with a trusted software provider can save a tremendous amount of time and money while improving end-user satisfaction in the long run.
About the author
John P. Weidenhammer is founder, president and chief executive officer of Weidenhammer Systems Corp., a diversified information technology firm headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa. An advocate of business-process re-engineering, he has consulted for numerous high-profile national and international organizations and is a frequent speaker at industry events and conferences. To learn more, visit http://www.hammer.net.