The beauty parade: Selecting the best option or ensuring confusion and delays

The "beauty parade" approach to procurement creates confusion and leads to inertia, but there are alternatives.

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Equally you may require that the system is scalable, able to grow with the business but does that mean handling more users, more records, less downtime for bulk processing or all of the above. Until this brief exists, there is not much point in starting the process of supplier selection.

With a clear brief based on what the software must deliver, i.e. not a specification of features; you can probably prioritise the benefits required or rank them as essential, desirable or ‘would be nice’.

Now, I would suggest you should send it out to as wide a range of potential suppliers as you like, clearly stating that they must indicate which deliverables their existing product can already demonstrably match. No time wasters please!

From the responses it will be easily possible to draw up a shortlist of candidate suppliers based on those that already have a proven product that most nearly matches the requirements that you have specified. You could even specify when you issue the brief that a less than 80% match will not be considered and that references will be taken up.

Now you can invite the chosen few to come and show how easily and quickly their product can be adapted, and at what price, to meet your specific needs not already covered by their existing specification.

As you already have a high degree of matching, the question of development should be addressed by looking at the nature of the programming of the software to see if additional features are a start from scratch or modifications.

This process should have a number of benefits. The buying process is shorter, with less wasted time by buyer and seller.

By briefing deliverables rather than features you allow for innovative responses. By seeking closest match from existing software you can widen the field of candidate suppliers and keep customising, and related costs, to a minimum.

Pilot introductions should be quicker and may allow the already proven elements of the software to be installed while customising is being carried out. Above all it is a more efficient and cost effective means of selecting a software partner rather than a supplier.

Nick Rowley is managing director of customer service specialists Oceanus .

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Managing customer expectations with technology and common sense