In my previous blogs I’ve stressed the importance of picking one key IT system at a time on which to build your business, rather than trying to transform everything at once and building a new Frankenstein held together with sticky tape and pins.
However, here is one major process that communications service providers (CSPs) still struggle with: the request for proposal (RFP). I don’t necessarily have the answer, but the RFP process for new IT systems requires attention.
As a vendor, of course I believe that my system is better than all the others – but let’s assume for now I am a CSP that has just put out an RFP. Other than price, I cannot figure out which system is right for me. As someone who was on the CSP side 20 years ago, I have a pretty good idea of what to do. However, the problem today is that technical experts figure less and less within a CSP’s IT group. Now, the group responsible for selecting key IT systems is a strange mixture of architects (maybe “markitects” is a better term), end users, and program and project managers.
At some point all of the systems proposed to you sound the same, have the same business value, and are all based on what the other guy did – which by the way may have already failed. If you pick a technology used by everyone today, it is very likely to be legacy. How do you know investment in R&D on the product you are selecting is really happening? Roadmaps are shaky at best.
Essentially, RFPs by their very nature are already flawed. You have described the situation you are in today and you are trying to fit the new technology to that situation. Assuming you are trying to transform your business, this is a dead end before you even start.
Bottom line, it seems to me that if you are looking to transform and the selection of the target system is important, there has to be a better way to find the right answer.
I do believe at some deeper level, there are answers and to get to them we need to understand the questions. Here is my take on the key strategies you should follow before you can make a decision:
- Request a detailed list of each vendor system’s features and the value they bring to the business. From this, select the top systems and test them in order to understand how they work. Your objective is to see how the technology enables you to differentiate, providing you with maturity of product versus a custom answer.
- “If I use your system, how would my business processes change?” To answer this requires collaborative work with a vendor. So how do you do this with all of them at the same time? One answer maybe is to give them your specific existing processes and ask them to redo it assuming their system is being used. Vendors are more than willing to do this, but more importantly this will really show the value you are going to get.
- “How long would it take to do this?” Here it is tough to weed out the liars, the fakers, and the “trust me” vendors. “Trust me” may be the best answer here, but verification is a must. I want to see a project that has just completed and one that is ongoing. Believe me, this is harder than stopping Iran from going nuclear, and inspections are tricky at best.
- The real answer is to invest in technical employees that have depth and breadth. Shallowness is pervasive in our business, but you have the money to do this and in the grand scheme of things consultants and vendors cannot replace this and are more expensive.
Finally, I cannot stress enough that we need to leverage the TM Forum as a vehicle to understand the industry and evaluate what is out there before we start the process of change. Change the paradigm. Announce your project and ask for vendors to present and showcase their systems so you can understand what is available. Send more people who can represent you at the events. If I am buying a car, I don’t ask my mechanic to go and choose one for me. Send people who are closely involved with the business, and who know about IT. And please don’t be cornered by one vendor. You are missing the point entirely if you do.