In the tool selection process, you will be dealing with vendors. You will want the interaction to be fair, honest and efficient and to pave the way for an ongoing and successful relationship with the vendor. The first part of the relationship is a common understanding of your selection process (not theirs). Tell them:

  1. Your environment, i.e., existing products, platforms and anticipated volumes;
  2. Your product requirements, i.e., what you are looking for;
  3. Your decision criteria;
  4. What information you need from them, i.e., function, cost and references;
  5. Your schedule for the decision; and
  6. How you want them to market to you, including your point of contact, what presentations you want to see and how you want their product demonstrated.

Don't tell them whom they are competing against. Ask the vendors to only tell you about their product and refrain from discussing the competition. The reasons for the no-competitor rule are that some vendors will make illegitimate comparisons with half-truths and innuendoes. Others will make comparisons with competitors' products that are years old. In either case, you will find yourself chasing a worthless trail, becoming annoyed, wasting your time and probably delaying the selection process.

Demonstrations and Presentations

Give the vendor an agenda for the presentation you want to hear. Give them a set of questions you want answered. This will help them determine what skill level they will need to bring to the presentation.

Let the vendor know there will be a scribe taking notes, including the questions asked and the answers given, and that you will give them a draft of these notes asking for their corrections. The corrected notes should be distributed to the meeting's participants and other stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome of the selection. Having validated notes helps to assure an accurate understanding of the vendor's product. It is acceptable for the vendor to not be able to answer all your questions at the presentation, but they should write down the questions and get back to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Vendor Support

As you develop your list of mandatory requirements, you will want to include a requirement for excellent vendor support. Determine if the vendor has different levels of support, usually charging more for their platinum than for their gold and even less for the silver level (one organization referred to this level as rust). The vendor might tell you about the many awards won for outstanding support. To determine if the support matches their representations, call the support line and have one of your technical people ask a question. Look for the following:

  1. How long are you on hold?
  2. How difficult is it to navigate the phone system?
  3. Does the support person understand the question? Are there any communication problems? You may find communication difficulties if the support person is from another country.
  4. Can the first person you talk to answer your question?
  5. Does the support person take responsibility for the question or the problem?

The gold standard for determining levels of vendor support is the experience other organizations have had with the vendor. Be sure to ask these five questions when you call the references. If they tell you they have never had problems and have never needed to call the vendor, you are either talking to the wrong person at the reference site or the software has not been exercised.

Ongoing Relationship

The vendor wants you to be successful for a number of reasons. First of all, they look forward to visiting an organization that is happy using their software. An organization with a successful implementation is likely to purchase more business intelligence (BI) seats and buy additional products from the vendor, and the organization is less likely to displace their product with that of a competitor. Let the vendor know how you are doing, reporting successes as well as problems. When you need their help and support, be sure to ask for it.

Vendors are usually in need of good references. Let the vendor know that when your use of the software is successful, you will agree to be a reference. This does not mean hosting a visit; it means taking calls that usually last less than one hour. The vendor would be responsible for the logistics, arranging for a date and time that is convenient for you.

Vendors are always looking for pithy quotes and testimonials that can be used in their marketing materials. Offer to provide these quotes and testimonials. Vendors like exposure (the positive type) in articles and case studies. This usually involves being interviewed and a few photo opportunities. Vendors also need customers who can discuss their experiences at conferences, vendor user groups and sponsored road shows. Vendors also like to have their customers submit entries of world class solutions to such organizations as TDWI and DM Review. Make the vendor interaction as pleasant as possible and make the vendor a true partner in your data warehouse implementation.

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