Managing supplier partnerships and critical applications

supplier partnerships and critical apps

Powerful words aren’t they – managing supplier partnerships and critical applications.

Implementing new sample tracking software isn’t just about finding a product that meets your needs now, you need something that will confidently suit your future requirements without restricting your growth plans.

Typically every organisation has a list of requirements. As we all know pulling together a specification is like playing pin the tail on Roadrunner. Getting busy users to stop their day job and put together a document of any kind is a thankless task. No-one wants to commit their needs to paper.

Just today I was reminded of this by a PM who is being criticised for not having a working system in place, but gets absolutely no response when those same critics are asked to state what they want, and how it is to work so that the required system can be procured. Getting this output in cohesive format is painful for all involved.

Typically, where requirements are defined, the users deliver a document detailing the “Musts”, “Must Nots”, and “Would be nice ifs”. This checklist is however just a snapshot in time, within a matter of months it will be superseded. It then falls to one person to rationalise these documents and produce a clear view of what the organisation is looking for, so that budgets can be secured and procurement activity start.

Whether going out to open, restricted or expedited tender, or following an alternative route, typically this is the first point where suppliers start their involvement in understanding requirements.

In the same way that every provider will answer the question differently, equally there’s a lot of reading between the lines required to make sure that there is a correct understanding of what is meant. One supplier could provide a simple “Yes” with a brief description. Others might provide a diagram or screenshot or details of a working example. Some suppliers could spend 20 plus working days building up a response of hundreds and hundreds of lines detailing why they can offer the best product or service.

It then falls to the procurement team to use their scoring mechanism and instruct those involved in shortlisting, on how they need to identify solutions that can meet the stated requirements. This is the exact point where, in simple terms, you are taking your internal issues and placing them in the hands of people you don’t know…then asking them to fix.

Finding a solution to meet the documented requirements, within the stated budget, is one challenge. What about the bigger issue – how exactly do you find a supplier that you can trust to deliver the things that you don’t always know you need?

There is no tried and tested formula for this – but there are some common pointers that can help steer your research.

  • Talk to people – find out who your industry work with and why they selected that provider. Would they choose them again, knowing what they know now?  Be discerning – if the answer to this is a “No”, delve into the reasons why this might be the case.
  • Find out how long their longest customers have worked with that supplier – continued contract renewal indicates a vote of confidence in that supplier.
  • Understand how much that supplier is happy to collaborate with you – do the words trust and partnership resonate through their actions?
  • How comfortable is the supplier in their bid to you – have you given them enough information to honestly be in the best position to budget for the project?
  • How do they handle contingency planning and the inevitable out of scope discussions?
  • How do they balance the delicate parallels of budget, timescales and scope?
  • How do they handle it when things ‘go wrong’. No implementation is perfect although some are smoother than others? Is this partnership open enough to allow both sides to be accountable?
  • How much do your requirements vary from their standard product, and standard way of doing business – be that their attendance on site, their communication channels or their support service? The closer their standard offerings meet your needs, the greater the likelihood of success.


Across industries, implementations and software challenges, there is wide recognition that people on both sides of the supplier-customer partnership make all the difference when it comes to a successful business relationship. Whilst inevitable changes will occur during a contract lifetime, starting on a strong foundation offers the greatest chance of success from the outset.