April 11, 2012

3 Ways to Choose the Right Software Vendor; Customers Reveal All

Choosing the right vendor for your enterprise-wide software needs can be a challenge. Successful projects begin with a strong relationship between you and your vendor, so choosing the best people to work with is important.

A lot has been written about how to frame a purchasing discussion with regards to key items such as licence fees, upgrades and implementation costs, so we won’t tread on that old ground here. But there are some alternative approaches to choosing the right vendor for high-volume transactional output products, enterprise output management, ECM and other important software solutions.

Giving you tips on how to make a good decision is one thing, but providing you with an actual customer situation that may be representative to your business challenges. In the following, we will take you through an actual CrawfordTech client’s complex business problem. What results is a clear picture on how to choose the right vendor and why that is the key to success…

Conduct a competitive shoot-out

Take a look at The Dominion, Canada’s trusted insurance company, for example. They pitted vendors against each other in a ‘technical face-off’. Here’s what they did, and why it stands out as a great example of how to manage the process.

Many people look for comparisons of price points, support teams and maintenance contracts, but the key to The Dominion’s success was to conduct a ‘technical shoot-out’ in addition to just creating the usual spreadsheets full of numbers and facts.

Each vendor was given a test file just five minutes before a pre-determined meeting, and then asked to show how they would create the intended output using that file. You don’t have to do this in person, of course – shoot-outs are just as effective (probably more so for everyone involved) via the Internet. Keeping costs low through webinars and screen-sharing helps to keep the buying process moving forward smoothly.

What are you looking for in the shoot-out? Ease-of-use, speed and vendor competence all rank highly, but expect them to throw up the unexpected too. In many cases during the proof of concept or technical due diligence stage CrawfordTech have been able to highlight errors in the original source files that the client hadn’t spotted, further enhancing our reputation as people who really know their stuff.


Stick with industry standards

As an early adopter of this file format in North America, The Dominion chose to output and store their documents in PDF/A format. When you have documents that might have to be kept for 25 years or more, choosing the ISO standard for archiving is always a smart move.

In short, PDF/A satisfies corporate, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and other legal requirements and is the best way to ensure that you will be able to search, retrieve, view and print your documents in the future with the full legal fidelity of the original.

Similarly, companies shouldn’t be forced away from other recognised and open standards such as AFP. Since IBM made the AFP architecture open it is now directed by the AFP Consortium, a group of vendor companies who are interested in continuing to enhance both the print-stream itself and the interoperability between vendor products.

Choose a vendor that not only works with industry standards, but that helps to shape them. CrawfordTech, for example, sit on the AFP Consortium and are members of the Board of the PDF Association. In addition, we work actively in the ISO committees helping to standardize file formats worldwide.


Don’t change your infrastructure

The Dominion’s systems have evolved over the years to provide exactly the solution they need to run their business, so choosing software that required no changes to their existing infrastructure was important.

If, like The Dominion, you already have a FileNet system in place, you need to choose a software partner that understands FileNet and can deliver content into your existing implementation.

Similarly, Sun Life Financial wanted to run software natively on their z/OS device, not send information to and from a separate server because the vendor isn’t able to run on that operating system.

In the case of The Dominion, Sun Life Financial and other CrawfordTech customers, the ability to run the software solution on platforms as diverse as Windows, UNIX, Linux and z/OS means you don’t have to – and you shouldn’t expect to – change your infrastructure to fit the solution.

Picking a vendor that offers software that works with all and any third-party software, without application changes, means you’ll benefit from lower implementation and maintenance costs too.


In addition to the usual questions and spreadsheets you may already prepare when looking at different vendors in the production printing, enterprise output management or ECM software world, use these three secrets to your advantage next time you pick a project partner and you’ll gain a wealth of decision-making knowledge that you’ll find indispensable.

[Image credit: orangejack]