By Jef Williams
Vendor selection processes abound in the imaging space. For nearly 20 years I have participated in, and led, dozens. Whether it be for modalities, facilities or technology, health care has always taken a systematic approach to determining best-fit solutions for its problems. This could be because of the evidenced-based culture within health care. Most of the processes I’ve participated in have included technology, usually large-scale solutions. I have learned some important lessons along the way.
The first is that there is never a silver bullet solution. When determining a replacement technology, there should always be a full self-discovery process that identifies gaps in the current state environment. These gaps, once identified, inform the problem statements and use cases that will be critical in framing the selection process whether it be a request for proposal (RFP), proof of concept (PoC), or some other codified methodology that provides empirical data in making your vendor of choice. Moving through the demos, observations, questions and answers, and references it always becomes apparent that none of the top vendors can fulfill all the functional and technical needs and requirements. This is where I have found weighting to be an enlightening effort. By prioritizing the needs and requirements, the picture of which vendor may best fit the need can become much clearer. The delta between most top-performing vendors has closed over recent years so finding the key differentiators is crucial to making a final decision.
Second, understand that the process takes time and requires many more hours than most people expect. As mentioned earlier, a well-crafted framework for selection should always begin with a full self-discovery effort. This includes taking the time to meet with clinical, technical and operational stakeholders and identifying where deficiencies lie in workflow, performance, support, analytics and cost – just to begin with. This current state analysis should be coupled with lengthy and thoughtful discussions about the future state. Often organizations frame the future as “what we do now, but better.” The most successful organizations take a digital transformational approach and ask, “If we could do it the best possible way, regardless of how we do it now, what would that look like?” These are important and difficult dialogues to have and thus having sufficient time to work through is critical to its success.
Finally, politics are real, and they aren’t going away. While most selection processes use metrics, math and surveys to quantify the vendors and their solutions, the ultimate decision should not be based on this data alone, and in my experience it never is. Keeping the process unadulterated from back door dealings and handshake conversations between vendors and decision-makers is well understood. But even this does not eliminate the politics that will ultimately play a key role in the outcome of the selection process.
Politics are often perceived as inherently negative, but they do play an important role in organizational initiatives, especially those that carry the level of interest, cost, resources and long-term commitment as these types of selections. Understanding that people with influence may wield that influence in the process will help mitigate what can feel like the sense of being undermined. At times, their reasoning may make sense, at others it may not. The most important thing to remember is that the selection is not a moral decision, it’s a personal preference. And while the “math” may lead to one solution, that math may not convince key leadership if they have other criteria they are considering in making the final determination.
Vendor selection is nothing anyone gets too excited about. For many, it’s a necessary evil. But if you take the perspective that it will teach you new things about your organization, allow for creative strategies for future planning and coalesce the team participating in the process to be best positioned for an implementation and adoption cycle, it can be quite rewarding.
Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.