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The FAQ's Of Supplier Selection

One of the most challenging elements of the outsourcing lifecycle is choosing the right supplier(s). With product providers and governing bodies seemingly mass-producing certifications and platinum partnerships, it can be hard to differentiate among outsourcers. The good news is that, despite what we may believe, it is quite likely that many service providers can deliver capably for your company. To find one that will work exceptionally well, review the FAQs of supplier selection: Fit, Ability, Quality.

Fit - It is very important to find a supplier whose strategy and culture fit with your company. While it's good to see that a supplier has garnered praise from likes of Barclay's, BP and GE, how does that translate to your business, one that may be a fraction of the size? Research and ask about the supplier's strategy and track record around supporting a business and deal similar to yours - industry vertical, size of business, potential size of contract. Your main contact during initial supplier discussions will likely be a sales executive that is compensated on winning business - not finding clients with a good strategic fit. Additionally, in trying economic times such as these, suppliers will be more likely to take on business that doesn't fit within their strategic goals. If markets go back up, will they still be as enthusiastic about your business?

Ability - Most outsourcers, large ones in particular, often support a dizzying array of technology or business process services. While the company as a whole may have a great reputation, it is imperative that they are capable in the specific area or technology that you're looking for. Make sure you go as deep as possible - an eCommerce supplier may provide excellent content management and web development services, but cannot adequately provide design and usability services. The supplier should have a resource pool that is several time larger than your needs (with reasonable bench capacity within that group), and they should have internal processes for training, developing and certifying those people. For example, if you're building a J2EE application, you don't want to end up with a team of .net superstars thumbing through Java For Dummies whilst developing your application.

Quality - At the company level, ask about relevant partnerships (i.e. MSoft, Oracle, etc) and security & quality certifications (ISO / CMMI). At the technology level, find out the average tenure/experience/certifications of their staff. Speak to a few key team members, and have a subject matter expert interview a couple of resources. This will provide much better insight into actual expertise, communication ability and cultural style. Also - do a bit of research around their history and growth prospects. Getting into an operating rhythm with an outsourcer takes time, so you want a company that will still be around in 5 - 10 years.

Once again, the good news is that there are probably several suppliers who can successfully fulfil your outsourcing requirements. It isn't necessary to journey to the ends of the earth, or long list 30 suppliers. Even if you've already entered an agreement with a poorly-fit supplier, you can still control your destiny by putting extra effort into getting the best resources at that supplier. Because many companies do not look beyond their single point of contact after they've outsourced, those who interview and vet the individuals working on their account have a much better chance of success.  

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