Part of the interview process should be a discussion of vendors that other groups have used. This should be coupled with internal experience and a review of solutions in the industry trade magazines and websites.
Aim to get at least three vendors involved and be sure to research them. The old saying of "trust but verify" must always echo in your thoughts. Require formal written proposals so the solutions can be compared, questions assembled and vendors held accountable. If a legal issue ever arises, you'll want everything in writing to prove what was said and done.
Additional Vendor Selection Criteria
In addition to internally developed criteria, consider including the following elements as well:
Installing the system -- Does the vendor have experience and/or good plans in terms of how to install the new system with our creating unplanned disruptions and minimal planned disruptions to operations?
Testing the system -- How will the vendor test the system before it is put into production? Does it seem like a valid plan? How will the system be tested in the future to make sure that it is reliable and functioning as planned?
Cutover planning -- How do they plan to do the actual change-over from the existing to the new system? In steps at night during the week? Over a weekend? Over several weekends? What power protection will be in place during the cutover?
Experience -- Does the vendor have sufficient experience? Look at the knowledge of the equipment they are selling, the implementation and support services as well. Do they have enough experience in your industry to understand your needs?
Longevity -- In addition to a vendor's experience, also look at their life expectancy. It defeats the purpose to buy the best solution if the only vendor who can support it goes out of business.
Liability -- Who will be accountable if there are problems? Should liability be pushed on the vendor? Should some be accepted? Is insurance needed? The point is that the liability of a power failure and failure of any backup systems needs to be considered. Once again, contingency plans should be driven on the basis or risk.
Maintenance -- Power systems aren't a "buy and forget" investment. They need to be routinely tested, batteries replaced, fuel checked and/or swapped, engines cleaned, etc. There are far too many examples of people relying on huge UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems and when the power failed, the UPS failed due to the batteries not being routinely replaced.
For big systems, resist the temptation to do internal maintenance. These systems can be very complex and the better left to trained technicians. Similarly, if they are maintained in-house, the liability related to failure is fully absorbed by the organization.
Support -- Look at how the vendors answer questions and/or how quickly they can dispatch a technician in the event of a problem. 24x7 phone support is one thing 24x7 4-hour on-site response with parts is quite another.
Take the requirements list and establish a weighting for each point. Those items that are most important get a weight of five and then go down the scale to least important which get a one. Then score each vendor with a one for a low score to a five for a high score. As a result, the vendor with the highest score should be the best, the next best vendor will have the second highest score and so on. This allows for fairly objective ranking of the vendors on the basis of merit. Stakeholders should weigh in on each and an average for each score developed.
IT systems can't run without power and their reliability and availability are directly linked with the quality of the power supplied. Power can't be taken for granted and if it hasn't been reviewed, now is an ideal time to start such a project. In the next part of our article, we will review topics for consideration.