(This was originally published on Optimal Partners’ blog.)
Choosing the right vendor in Higher Ed IT is essential to providing students, faculty, and staff with the technology and services they need. Selecting the wrong vendor could be disastrous for the longevity of your project, potentially putting you massively over budget and past your expected deadlines. Ensuring that the product you’re looking into fits within your budget and meets the needs of your project is a good start, but there are a few less obvious and often overlooked items to consider when choosing a vendor. Keep these following items in mind during your next project to avoid any unnecessary hang-ups and complications.
Are They Engaged in Higher Ed?
Higher Ed is unlike any other industry, and as such, your project will benefit greatly from finding a vendor that is engaged in the Higher Ed community. It’s not enough to have worked with other colleges and universities in the past; they should play an active role in the community, working as a partner to Higher Ed institutions, rather than just a vendor. Whether they’re sponsoring events or working with students to promote education, finding a vendor that’s engaged in the Higher Ed community is a great start to building a strong partnership.
What is their Culture?
Part of what makes Higher Ed so unique is its culture of collaboration. That culture can be further defined by the specific environment at your institution. It can be easy to overlook the culture of a prospective vendor when investigating the details of their product. If a vendor’s internal culture doesn’t match (or, worse, clashes with) your institution’s culture, that not only doesn’t bode well for your partnership with them but could also complicate the initial phases of your project as you both adjust. If you work with a company that has a culture and mission that matches your institution’s, you will at least know that you’re both working towards the same goal.
Are They Selling a Product or Finding a Solution?
A truly valuable Higher Ed vendor will be willing to find a solution to your problem even if that means recommending a competitor that better suits your needs.
When it comes to many vendors in Higher Ed, they’re ultimately looking to sell your institution a product and maintain a business relationship to ensure future sales. While this is the goal of any business (and not specific to Higher Ed vendors), a truly valuable Higher Ed vendor will be willing to find a solution to your problem even if that means recommending a competitor that better suits your needs. Transparency and cooperation are key to building a strong vendor partnership, and knowing that they have your institution’s needs in mind rather than just their bottom line will help strengthen that relationship and make any future collaborations go much more smoothly.
Are They Honest?
Although it may sound obvious, finding a vendor that is willing to be completely honest with their clients is essential to building a successful partnership. A truly honest vendor will be willing to admit that they don’t have all the answers. If a situation arises when they don’t have a specific solution to your problem, will they be willing to admit it? This extends to how they present their product as well. A vendor that exaggerates the features and functionality of their product may not be completely honest about other aspects of your partnership. Sometimes a vendor that understates their product can be better for the long-term success of your project.
Do They Listen?
There’s a popular saying that goes, “Are you listening or just waiting for your turn to speak?” This is especially important to look for when dealing with prospective vendors. Your project will benefit greatly from a vendor who is truly engaged in what you are saying, rather than waiting for their chance to talk about their product. Finding a partner that is actively engaged in listening to your problems and finding solutions to them is paramount for the success of your project and ongoing partnership.
Are They Flexible?
Higher Ed institutions can differ drastically from one another in size, culture, and technological complexity, making finding a vendor that fits perfectly with your project very difficult. Instead, look for a vendor that has the resources to customize their services to match your institution’s needs specifically. Not only will this help you reach your goal quicker and more efficiently, but it shows that the vendor is willing to collaborate and provide the support you need.
Once you have honed in on a selection of vendors that meet your functional and budget requirements, take the time to consider these few items to ensure a successful ongoing partnership.