We have become commoditized in some of our purchasing decisions and very picky in others.  Some companies sole source networking gear for instance, then buy the least expensive infrastructure to run it on, and open spec everything else with the least expensive winning the business.  There is an old saying, “you get what you pay for.”  In many cases the least expensive option is not going to provide you with long term business benefits such as support, education, and a true business partner that will help you design and install the most effective solution. 

There are better ways to score a vendor when you are looking at competing bids.  A balanced scorecard will match value to value added services and business assistance.  Let’s examine some of the criteria that you should ask your vendor partners.

Do you participate in the applicable standards/codes?  This is important to know if the company actively helps shape the direction of future computing and support systems.  This provides your company an ear and a voice and also knowledge prepublication of what is happening in the industry.  Some companies that do not participate rely on the same internet channels for information.  Think of what you have read and how much has been incorrect!

Where are your products manufactured?  With stimulus dollars available, this is an important question. 

What is your environmental policy and what is your carbon footprint?  If you are a company that is working to become carbon neutral or negative, you need to assure that your supply chain is also working towards the same goals.  The truth is that many companies have moved operations offshore to get around environmental regulations.  As good stewards of our plane this question is becoming more common.

How do you deal with lead time issues?  They happen; it is a fact of life.  A company should be able to work with you in advance of projects to assure what you need is available when you need it.

What is your escalation procedure?  Some vendors force you to work with the installation company first and are only available AFTER that channel is exhausted.  This can have serious ramifications on a project. 

What services do you have available to help with the design and implementation phases of the project?  Vendors that rely solely on outside organizations for help introduce a second level of issues.  Sometimes those companies steer you ONLY to the products they are familiar with or receive the best discount/rebates for which may or may not be in your best interest. 

What is your supply chain model and what are stocking options?  Creative companies can work with their supply chain to assure availability.  There are lots of ways of doing this and it certainly bears investigation.

What other services are available to you as a company?  Many companies have education programs, workshops and other programs that can save you a fortune regardless of whether you have the expertise in house or you use consultants.  Let’s face it, everyone has a 40 hour (at least) job and new projects can tax already overstressed resources.  Likewise it is great to have a second pair of eyes that can work as an advocate for you to assure you are getting the best solution moving forward.

What is your certification process for your partners?  It is worth paying attention to the length and content of the courses.  It is also worth considering if your company employees can go through the same training. 

Lastly and most importantly, you should check references but not the ones that the company gives you.  I always suggest that you go through old press releases and contact those companies that implemented the solution a while back.  This is a great way to determine what problems manifested and how they were resolved.  It is also a great way to plan for hiccups that may happen before they are your hiccups.