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evaluate and verify a potential vendors
Just so you know up front, I am a consultant. I assist colleges buy ERP software or show them how they can operate more efficiently through better utilization of their existing software.
Since I am usually in a competitive situation trying to get the contract, here is what I wish the university would do in checking out the vendors:
- Preliminary: Identify specifically why the college needs to hire an outside consultant to do this job.
- Preliminary: Is the college going to be involved enough in the project to take ownership of the results? Without individuals on the campus taking ownership of the results of the project, the project will fail regardless of which consultant you hire.
- Has the consulting company successfully completed projects similar to yours for other colleges?
- Who will actually be doing the work: an experienced partner or the new junior member of the firm?
- Is the project one in which it would be helpful for the consultant to have prior experience working is a specific area of the college and / or a specific industry? The consultant needs to understand your needs, your perspectives and perhaps an outside industry, e.g. software vendors.
- Does the vendor’s proposal provide what you are specifically looking to achieve?
- Get samples of their deliverables. Are they what you expected?
- How is the university going to control the vendor/project? The consultant should provide you a proposal that includes a specific timeline for each milestone, the expected cost of each milestone and the expected deliverable for that milestone. This enables you to make sure the consultant is on time, within budget and providing the specific items you expect. Elsewise you don’t know what you are getting and if it is a good price.
- Who is the consultant planning to meet with? Why? If they didn’t tell you all the on campus people and possible off campus people you thought should be involved, it may be an indication they will do a once over light job.
- Do the proposed work, time line and deliverables make sense to you? If it doesn’t, look for another vendor.
- If you are expecting the consultant to assist you in purchasing something (hardware, software, etc.), ask them who they recommend. If they tell vendor X, this may indicate some type of inappropriate relationship between the consultant and the vendor. Check to see if the consultant’s former clients usually or always bought from the same vendor. What vendor you buy from must be the decision of the committee, not the consultant, elsewise the campus will not take ownership of the results and the project will fail.
- What is the return on investment that the consultant’s service is going to provide the college? Will it save the school time and how much? What value does the consultant bring to the project? If the result of the consulting project is purchasing something, how much more will the consultant’s negotiations with the vendor save the college than if you purchased it directly?
- Is the consultant willing to guarantee the satisfaction of their work product?
- Do reference checks with others at the college who were not the listed reference but should have been involved in the project.
- Check with second hand references. Ask the references you are given by the vendor, if they know any other schools which have used this consultant. Then call that other school.
- Remember you want specific results. Don’t get snowed by the size of the consulting firm. Larger consulting firms may have higher prices only because they have thicker carpeting in their offices. There are many small and mid-sized consulting firms that also can do a great job for you at a lower price. It’s the results that matter, not the name or size of the consulting company. This is probably my own bias!
- I would not recommend hiring a PI to “snoop.” Consulting jobs require a trusting personal relationship between the consultant and the college’s executive project leader. The executive knows what she or he is looking for and needs to find out for him/herself what it is like to work with the consultant by doing their own reference checks. If the college executive or the project team doesn’t have time or the inclination to do reference checks themselves, they are not taking ownership of the project and thus ….
J. Rogers O’Neill
Education Strategies LLC