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5 Steps to Choosing the Right BPM Solution Provider

Buying software to implement a Business Process Management (BPM) project is an expensive undertaking. The fact is that choosing the right software is only part of the problem. Typically the greater cost will be the implementation of the system, otherwise you will probably not be getting enough benefit from the software. Development of the solution is also the critical part of the entire exercise. Even if you do not have the best possible software, good design and development of the solution can make the solution work effectively. If the design or development is flawed, even the most perfect software will not save your project from disaster.

Because of the importance of the implementation of your solution, it is vital that you choose your solution provider carefully. Once the sales pitch is over, and the cheque is cashed, you will need varying amounts of consulting, design, training, development and support.

These five steps will ensure that you select a provider who is able to provide any or all of these services relating to the software you are buying.

Development Experience

Providers without a development focus typically do not benefit from your long-term satisfaction, and are often unable to provide the required resources for a successful implementation and on-going maintenance.

Ensure that the provider has significant and provable development experience in their own right. All too often providers are either just selling the software, or are more interested in selling related products. One very obvious indicator of such an organisation is an increase in urgency at the end of any quarter. Sales organisations are notoriously influenced by quarterly sales goals. As such, they are not often interested once the sale is over, unless they are trying to sell you more software.

Case studies and success stories are a very common method of promoting a product. It is important to investigate whether the provider themselves, or another company, has actually performed the work in any such examples they refer to. Ask outright what their involvement was, if necessary. Too often providers have had nothing to do with the actual work, or perhaps they merely contracted in another provider. In either case it is easy for a provider, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to mislead potential customers into believing they have a greater experience than they do.

Be particularly wary of providers who claim no development experience is required to implement a solution. We have never seen such software - if it existed, sales would be unstoppable! Development of a system of any complexity requires development skills. The effective use of software of any kind requires competent advice, at the very least.

Technical Ability

Providers without the proper grounding may be unable to give you the best advice. The effect can be expensive, as this will often cause projects to overrun time and expense budgets, or fail completely.

It is therefore important to choose a provider with a good technical grasp of the product, not just an overview or sales information. You will typically require some consulting to make decisions regarding the most effective use of the product to solve your unique problems.

When the provider is making their pitch, see if they actually make use of the software in the demonstration. If they merely show 'pre-built' examples, the chances are they do not have sufficient capability to actually use the software. With any software it is reasonably easy to use, they should be able to create a simple but fully functional example system in front of you - that is a key requirement in my experience.

Ask about potential pitfalls, and what to avoid, for example. Without a reasonable technical grounding, providers will find these questions very difficult, as they only know what the marketing materials sent to them state. A good indication of the focus of the provider is the nature of the information they publish regarding the software they sell. Do they focus on the 'Revenue Growth' of the Software producer, for example (an obvious indication of sales focus), or the technical innovations of the product? Is the information directly copied from marketing materials provided by the Software Producer, or have they obviously analysed the technical impact to the customer of functional changes?

Support Capabilities

If the provider does not have a proven track record of support for a significant number of customers using the product, the stability and security of your solution may be put at risk.

When you need technical help, you will typically need it in a hurry. If they will merely pass your problems on to a third party, such as the software producer, you are not going to get timely resolution in general.

If the provider has a support system or newsgroup, have a good look at the contents (if it is not publicly available, ask for a demonstration). If the most recent items on the system are months or even years old, the chances are it is never actually used.

Resources

If the provider does not have sufficient technical resources for your on-going needs, your development may be put at risk.

Check on the resources that will be available when you are interested in getting technical assistance. At least half of the available resources should be very experienced in using the product (typically four or more years). A good balance of less experienced but capable resources indicates a constant influx of fresh talent and internal training, which is equally important.

If training is a requirement, ask if the training will be provided by the provider itself, or by a third party. Some providers are all to happy to hire in trainers and merely charge extra on top, which does not give you longevity or value for money.

References

References given by the provider may not be related to the provider.

Ensure the provider can give you solid references. Request contact details to allow you to follow up these references. Find out how the provider offers these customers, and how highly the customer values the provider. Ask if you can see the systems developed in their working environment, for example. Ask about all aspects of performance, not necessarily just those you may be interested in. Times may change, and in any case, it is good to make sure the provider has fully encompassing resources and experience.

If the provider is unwilling or unable to provide contact details, see if you can get them yourself (for example from the Software Producer) and contact them yourself. You may find out that the customer was serviced by another provider altogether.

Checklist

Development Experience: Ensure that the provider has significant and provable development experience in their own right.

Technical Ability: Choose a provider with a good technical grasp of the product, not just an overview or sales information.

Support Capabilities: Confirm the existence and actual usage of any promised support systems.

Resources: Check on the resources that will be available when you are interested in getting technical assistance.

References: Ensure that supplied references are actually related to the provider.