Friday, 13 February 2015

Sweetheart Contract

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This week I added a comment on a forum discussion, over on LinkedIn. The thread was essentially about how social housing organisations might compare IT suppliers. IE good, average or bad. It was very interesting and points revolved around the following familiar themes:
  • Software suppliers are perceived as greedy and charge too much (some taking a view they will charge what things are worth to you, rather than cost to develop)
  • Suppliers in the (social housing) sector lag behind ones outside in the 'real world'
  • Lack of standards might be a problem, maybe someone should suggest/commission some (e.g. CORA, HACT - that's two standards )
  • Package vs Bespoke, Package vs big ERP
  • Observation that organisations often leave their supplier, not their solution, (rather than the other way around).
  • Speculation on a mass rebellion by customers (try getting odds on that at Ladbrokes...)
  • Variability of suppliers on taking user groups, help desks and taking real growth & development of solutions seriously
Do any of these sound familiar to you, if you are a supplier OR an end customer of these systems? They are to me, also more stunningly stark when I work with two or more suppliers delivering in a partnership. You know, a lead supplier, who is contracted to be the lead for a mixed delivery of solutions. This can be a popular option, to try to obtain the best mix of integrated solutions, without the traditional ping-pong across help-desks as the contract says everyone is working together.

I have experienced this when I was the other side of the fence 4 years ago as a supplier. I will be honest with you, some partners I worked with were pretty bad. Others I recognised as doing & managing things better than we did, and as in my nature, I was always keen to learn what made them tick, so I could reach the same heights. I never enjoyed being regarded as anything less than supplying a solution that was flexible, nor being thought of as inflexible.

Out there, its perfectly possible to get excellent suppliers for your project and not get the best from them. Great functional requirements are the cornerstone of a good project. Without those, a supplier cannot confirm what could be delivered. Since your contract is based then on those responses, they are the where the buck stops for delivery.

Always have your functional requirements tight before going to tender. I experienced one customer who went to tender way too soon and as a supplier I won the deal. During early implementation the customer wanted to totally change the requirements, adding new ones and substantially changing others. As a responsible supplier, I flagged up that we were delivering on the days and price tendered to the legal contract agreed. It didn't go down well, but quite clearly the contract was there to protect both parties.

IMHO, where many organisations go wrong is that they don't do detailed functional's, then don't include them in the contract, then don't refer and measure delivery against them. Don't get me wrong, but it's like a GRN (Goods received Note). Check your items delivered against the contract functional's and you have a means of confirming you have everything you thought you bought originally. While at it too, make sure your users understand what's to be delivered, as that will set their expectations too.

Systems are complex animals however and decisions made along the way, will expose you to risk, taking ownership or closing doors on some of that specified functionality, during the project. I have known of books / courses to obstruct buyers, customers implementing etc, particularly being used in local government software supply, going back to the 1980's.

Social housing sector IT on the whole, finds it hard to think in a commercial way and act socially. To get the systems everyone thought we bought, we need to be firm and fair, like a commercial organisation would. Being accepting and flexible, is unfortunately seen as a weakness by some suppliers. That is behaviour that comes with our sector.

Rather than checking out the grass over there, what are we doing to get ours like prime Wembley turf? It's your job to keep your suppliers in check, bring them to account at user groups while bringing your peers to support you. Recognise when your supplier is not giving you love like your sweetheart and put your foot down.

Please don't kid yourself that someone putting some standards together will change this landscape, because it clearly isn't. Nor will big ERP or anything sold as off the shelf Microsoft Dynamics CRM be the silver bullet that a groundswell of RSL's should, can, will, move to. Believe me I have looked at them, often with suppliers pitching them into our sector.

 A lot of the areas highlighted on that original forum, bullet pointed above, are in YOUR gift to manage, control and influence. As I have said before, your functional's and contract are your greatest friend. Do your bit, read it, understand it and bring your supplier and users nearer to it.

Related Post: Do you realise, when you choose the right solution, KPIs come right too


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(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

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