Choosing a technology vendor can be difficult when you aren't sure what questions to ask. I have been consulting on IT for more than ten years now and one thing I have learned is that many of my customers did not fully understand what they were buying when they bought it. Whether we have come in to re-work a failed project, or replace an aging system I see the confusion on what to do next very often.
Unfortunately for many of these business owners they have the "Used Car Salesman" approach to IT vendors. They are not sure if they are buying features they need, or what a fair price looks like.
Here are a few things I would recommend you ask:
1. Does the provider truly understand my needs?
It is amazing how many customers we hear who tell us that their IT guy is terrible. I try to break that comment down because we don't want to make the same mistake. Often times, we find that it's not really that they cannot make the computer work, but they don't understand why it needs to work a certain way. There are IT companies around every corner who are capable of making almost anything work. The problem is that they cannot anticipate your needs and will consume more of your time and money because they need to be coached on every step.
2. What type of annual expense can I expect going forward?
It is important for you to understand what type of expense you can expect after the initial costs. Most software companies, ERP, POS, and the like, will charge some annual expense to allow you to receive all of the updates as they come up. While we recommend these upgrades, they are not always necessary. This is a conversation that you need to have with your provider. If the package has everything that you need in it, you may just opt to update every 3-5 years instead of annually. Either way, make sure you understand what each option costs, and what type of cost you can expect for tech support.
3. Do the prices quoted include training, installation, and everything else I will need to make my project successful?
The old bait and switch. In a thousand years of business, this practice has never changed. Customers are told that the hardware and software will cost X dollars. What they were not told was that it will take another 300 hours to migrate data, and reprogram the new system once you have bought it. While I despise this practice, I must admit that it is the customer's responsibility to cover the bases in this area just as much as the provider. With long standing customers of ours, we both understand that there will be other charges for installation, whereas newer customers need to be reminded up front.
4. Is the proposed timeline a legitimate goal or just a sales tool to get you to commit?
In today's world of overnight shipments, we can, and most suppliers can put together a new system pretty quickly. The important thing is not whether I can make it work for me, its whether it's ready for your team. Did we miss any steps? Did we thoroughly discuss who is responsible for which step in the project? For most projects, speed is not the goal, accuracy should be.
5. Will my team have FULL access to every function of the system after installation, or will we be charged to make changes to our own system?
Of all of these tips, this is sacred to us. When you spend thousands, and potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a system, its yours! Nothing bothers me more than a customer telling me that their provider is going to charge them hundreds of dollars to change a component of their system.
To be clear, I do expect a vendor to charge you for their labor to configure features. What I do not expect a vendor to do is lock you out of a feature and force you to pay change it. Advanced functionality comes with risk, and a good vendor may want to do things for you. Users with full "admin" access should be properly trained and proceed with caution.