Dealing with the Vendors:
Asking a software vendor if he supports CM is like asking a user car salesman if he has any cars for $5,000. Of course he does. Instead, send your function list and a description of your overall environment to candidate vendors, with the question; "can your product/s properly support these functions and, if so, tell me how in detail." Because reputable vendors will opt out if they can't comply, this will help to weed out the fellows who might sell you "CM" but can't solve your problems. Any who try to sneak through will stand out like a sore thumb.
Issue your document as a "request for information" rather than a "request for proposal." This will allow vendors to respond in a flexible way, telling their stories without the pressure of submitting a formal proposal with final pricing, etc. (although you should ask for budgetary costs in your RFI.) It will also allow them to submit responses to only those portions of your needs they can address directly without the fear of being disqualified. You should encourage partial responses in your solicitation because you may end up integrating pieces from different vendors. When you receive responses from vendors who believe they can meet your needs, cull them and schedule the survivors for sessions that include two things:
1. A detailed and frank discussion of the vendor's approach to each of your functional requirements. This will probably require the vendor's technical staff. Salesmen won't like it but your future is at stake so persevere.
2. A demonstration of at least some of the functions, with your data if possible. If a vendor can't tune his demo to your needs given reasonable time, he probably can't tune his product to them in operation. This is listed second because the demo should never be the major criterion for a selection. Instead, it should merely validate the vendor's descriptions of how he plans to address your needs. Demos tend to be like carnival side shows; what you think you see isn't always what's really there.
At this point, you will be in a position to go ahead with a formal RFP or just select a vendor and start negotiations. You will also be in a position to ask the winning vendor to write a contract that commits him to meeting your needs as described in your function list, giving you some recourse if things don't work out. It will also let the vendor know the bar he must reach. If you don't feel comfortable with the processes described above, don't be afraid to hire a consultant; someone with the experience to help you ask the right questions and fully profit from the answers.
While there's no silver bullet in matters like these, if you follow the suggestions above, take your time and keep your wits about you, you have a significantly increased chance of success in your quest for effective CM.
Barry Schaeffer is president of X.Systems, Inc., a consulting and system development firm specializing in the conception and design of text-based information systems, with industrial, legal/judicial and publishing clients among the Fortune 500, non-profit organizations and government agencies. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was first published on Intranet Journal, an internet.com site.