Choosing The Best Vendor
A document imaging integrator offers a four-step process you can use to help evaluate prospective vendors.
Business Solutions, March 1998
TRION Technologies, a document imaging integrator and software developer, has at least 25 strategic vendors and many more which partner with the company to a lesser degree. The Cleveland, OH-based integrator evaluates four aspects of potential vendors before making a decision. Al Frasz, vice president of TRION, says the entire selection process usually takes between two and three months to complete.
Finding A Technology Fit
By reading trade magazines and attending trade shows, TRION compiles a list of vendors which offer the product the company needs. The next step is determining if each product has the functionality that TRION requires of it. "We gather information on a product by reading company literature, talking to a salesperson, or browsing a company's Web site," states Frasz. "Web sites are a good resource because you can get a lot of information in a short period of time."
After reviewing product information, TRION usually determines the top three products which will then be evaluated at TRION. Software vendors may be reluctant to provide their products to a VAR, but Frasz says there is a way to accommodate both parties. "We usually sign a non-disclosure contract with the vendor to get a copy of the software," comments Frasz. "If a vendor will not supply us with a copy of the software, it raises the possibility that there may be something to hide."
While evaluating the product, TRION also gathers information on other technology-related issues. TRION determines whether a company has a separate or independent quality control organization and that software development guidelines and procedures are in place. Software vendors that should also track existing industry standards and have a schedule for new releases or upgrades of their product.
Address Vendor Support Issues
Technical support also plays a critical role in selecting the right vendor. Ideally a vendor should provide 24-hour support on the telephone and the Internet. VARs should also look at the size of the support staff and whether the vendor has consultants who can help with implementation. TRION also rates the vendor on product training and suggests that training should be offered on a regularly scheduled basis. Frasz examines support issues in smaller vendors with more scrutiny. "If the same employees are in charge of product development and support issues, this raises a red flag," states Frasz. "It is very difficult for a vendor to move a product forward when engineering resources are tied up with support issues."
VARs and integrators should expect some degree of marketing support in selling a vendor's product. All vendors should provide product literature to the VAR. Beyond that, VARs and integrators should inquire about end-user lead generation and joint proposal assistance from the vendor. "You have to examine a vendor's channel strategy," comments Frasz. "I don't want to compete against a vendor who sells directly to end users."
Marketing support is not an issue for software products which are embedded into a solution. If a product is visible to the customer, then TRION expects to receive marketing support. The cost of embedded technology can be incorporated into the overall system cost. High-profile technology often appears as a separate line item on a bid proposal.
Paying For The Product
When reselling software, TRION looks at two aspects of pricing. The first is the initial price of buying the development software. The second, and more important, is run time cost - the price the vendor charges each time TRION embeds the software into in an application. "Each vendor has a different policy for run-time pricing, but we always look for a sliding scale based on volume. The more we sell a vendor's product, the less we should have to pay for it," states Frasz.
VARs and integrators should also evaluate a vendor's maintenance fees and what is included. Some vendors will include free upgrades for minor software releases, but charge for a new major version of the software. For example, the maintenance fee may include software versions 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc. However, a vendor may charge an additional fee when version 3.0 of the software is released.
VARs and systems integrators should know that few, if any vendors, will be exceptional in every category. "There are always things you like and don't like about a vendor. The goal is to find the best overall vendor," states Frasz.