or LinkedIn here https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tonysmiththathousingitguy
It can be fantastically useful in confirming our feelings or stoking up our fears of making a mistake, one which maybe we would better want to avoid. We are used to following references when looking to employ new staff and occasionally provide one. In the case of employees and employers, its often more telling when people refuse to provide any reference, good or bad.
So how important are references, when choosing/procuring new application solutions?
Often its easier to find some useful references prior to a procurement, rather than during or afterwards. Procurement professionals will generally cite ‘references’ quite rightly as being part of ‘looking back’ in the tender process, rather than ‘looking forward’ as per the ITT, hence dissuade doing scoring on references. This often frustrates clients I have worked with, although as I will come on to later, maybe for scoring, references are less inciteful than you might expect. When spending six or seven figure sums on new systems, its natural to want to get reference insights.
Taking reference insights from people you trust, rather than ones that suppliers connect you to, are generally more useful to you. Often with systems applications and software, organisations rarely want to talk about bad decisions they made. This is not helped by suppliers writing up a case study, almost before the ink is dry on the finalised contract. A story you read in Housing Technology magazine three years ago, might not have actually gone live as yet. I see many types of projects, including a good few across a wide range of software suppliers, who have an interesting story behind them. As a critical friend to my clients, I do my best working to prevent repeat of those mistakes wherever possible.
We are all used to suppliers regaling us with PowerPoint slides packed with their customer logos, at the start of their demonstration pitches. The unaware might reasonably assume that any of those sites with a logo, might make a good reference site. Many reading this will be familiar recognising a logo and knowing work or social contacts at that site. Often even at this stage the pitch isn’t reflecting known solutions in use. The precise question to probably ask, is which of these has been live for a while on precisely the product/version being pitched, plus another option currently implementing that is nearly at go-live.
Skip these precise questions and you might well get in contact with a reference, although not one that reflects what is being pitched. I have seen lots of examples where the only reference site that has been pitched, that was just starting to implement. One client I worked with had this experience and never got the solution working effectively. Strangely enough, I knew people at the site they visited and could reassure my client that they never really got it working either! Its no laughing matter, as public money was wasted at both sites. Tenant improvements, like new kitchens, bathrooms and rewires, that never took place, as that budget was squandered on poor ICT instead.
When reference sites make themselves available, they generally are rewarded with freebies, such as free development days etc. So it is in their interests to participate. It was the same at my old shop, even fans of the solutions, still picked up a free onsite or development day. Beware when the same reference sites are used time after time. These might be the only sites actually live or seeing significant rewards. Its not unusual for these sites to eventually start to refuse to be reference sites, particularly where they might start to struggle to see progress with their problems or development/roadmap issues.
When I was MD at a major HMS software supplier, back about nine years ago, often I would respond to tenders that asked for 3 reference sites. At that time, I and my team put so much effort into customer care, I was confident enough to respond with three matched ones, plus the full customer list, for prospects to contact anyone they like. How many application/solution providers these days might offer that to you? Do ask the question, see how confident your supplier really is!
With reference sites, firstly work to find a reference site similar to yourselves (not way smaller, or nowhere near experienced enough in the solution being considered). Beware the difference between cloud hosted and on-premise versions of the solution under consideration, particularly as is common these days, you are looking for full cloud hosting.
Expect the reference site to be positive about the supplier and solution. However, key questions to tease out how long the solution actually took to implement, problems/issues and importantly how they were resolved by the supplier, should be key. Many insights can be learned from references, particularly around how they tackled data migration, composition of the project or subject matter team etc.
Never skimp on contacting reference sites thoroughly. This element of the process is easier than ever, with the plethora of remote options available, so there is less excuse than ever. Also, if procuring, this reference site could become your ongoing peer and friend with the solution, so invaluable in terms of starting your organisations' networking, to get the best from the selected solution.
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Sainté - Reference.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting www.acutanceconsulting.co.uk 07854-655009
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