Choosing and implementing a finance and leasing platform is a painstaking job for any corporation, which has potentially far reaching implications. A systems business partner selection is an executive level decision; encompassing cost-benefit considerations, accounting for business operation interruptions, selecting core features and tasks – that the system will perform – and how will the system interface with external systems and accommodate third-party integration to name a few. However, keeping some critical factors in mind, companies can avoid the pitfalls inherent in the selection process and by carefully following a few steps, errors can be weeded out, time saved – that is usually spent on redundancies – and the overall experience made less cumbersome.
Research/ Due Diligence
Once the need for a system or system upgrade has been realized, research is the first and foremost step in the process of selecting a partner and implementing their system. For this, there are several mediums available, for example attending asset finance association conferences, company websites, reviews and contacting people at companies directly. Initial spade work at this stage will reveal what is available in the industry in terms of technology, services offered and common business practices. Draw up a list of companies that you find attractive, but more importantly look for products that fit your businesses needs best. Further stages in the process, for example the RFP stage, are more in-depth and provide you with personalized responses that will allow you to gauge a company’s competence and whether it has the specific capabilities to cater to your unique demands. However, at this stage the key performance indicators to look for are; company history, expertise in the specific domain, certifications, case studies, clientele and reputation and brand name. Delivery record is the best yard stick to judge a vendor by. Also look for specialization of vendors and your particular needs as some vendors are better than others in different areas of the asset finance industry, while others cater to only parts of the contract lifecycle. There are few full spectrum asset finance and leasing solution provider companies in the domain that cover the entire contract lifecycle at any level (wholesale, floor-plan financing and big-ticket finance). Due Diligence should include sanity checks, including vendors` background check, ownership, leadership and financial strength. Technical specifications of the systems should also be carried out to steer away from outdated platforms.
- A key factor to keep in mind at this point is to take account of your essential needs and core functionality required of an asset finance and leasing platform – things that are absolutely necessary for the running of business operations, rather than added features and gimmicks – this is to keep costs in check, as customizations in an IT project can drive costs and risks up multi-folds.
The second step in the process is shortlisting companies from the research stage, to which RFI`s (Request for Information) will be sent and then evaluating those companies further once their responses have been received. The scope of the RFI can be adjusted as per requirements and complexity of the project. It could range from respondents analyzing a current system to simply providing essential information that wasn’t available at the research stage. RFI`s are in the form of specific questions for the vendors, asked by the client. Companies usually propose their solutions and offering, in bear bone form in RFI`s and how their solutions could work for the client. It’s a good idea to demand a couple of case studies of recent implementations of proposed solutions to observe their functionality in actual scenarios. At the end of the RFI stage, vendors need to be shortlisted for solicitation for the RFP stage, however each company added to the RFP stage means time investment by the top management at your company for decision making purpose, as the RFP process is a lengthy one.
- All information provided by different companies will assist you in developing a subsequent Request for Proposal.
- Demand that the vendors ensure the continuity of data operations in the event of a malfunction or catastrophe.
Demonstrations follow RFI`s, as companies demonstrate live, the functionalities of their software, showcasing its capabilities and features in great detail and how the software solution practically works. The orientation of the demonstration is towards signifying how the system fits in with the client’s needs and what value it can add to the clients business. Good workshops will be designed on scenario basis, showing solutions to actual or possible situations rather than just a straightforward demonstration of the features of the software. Workshops should illustration the entire lifecycle of a contract, with dynamic calculations ability and functionality in real time at any volume level. Workshops start with the RFI stage and continue through till the end of the selection process, as live and interactive demonstrations of the software are the best way of judging the platform, the vendor company as a whole and the people associated with the company.
- The people representing the vendors in a demonstration should include specialists from both the business and the IT side, people who have carried out implementations before, to answer any question as they arise and get a feel of what the dealings will be like with the vendor company.
The third stage is the RFP (Request for Proposal) stage and is perhaps the most important and hands-on part of the whole process. In this phase, parties from either side interact extensively discussing exact details and exploring issues in-depth. Therefore, there needs to be comfort between the parties of the vendor and client so as they can freely communicate and accommodate each other. It helps to have a cultural and intellectual fit between the two and creating a relationship early on. The people at the company, form the top-down, are the most important resource you should be assessing, whether they are enterprising, driven and capable. You are not looking for just a vendor, but a business you can develop a rapport with in the short term and build a partnership with in the long term. The relationship parameter should be agreed upon and clear to either party so no misunderstandings arise at any stage. Both parties should stand to benefit (long term growth and profitability) from the arrangement. Since vendors are specialists they should complement your business, managing non-core IT activities for you, so that your business exclusively focuses on business critical activities. A typical RFP can have upwards of 2500, often expansive, questions for vendors to answer and the interactive process can help the client company realize needs and requirements not recognized before. This is the final stage before a formal software solution demonstration, so maximum time should be spent at this stage understanding, gauging and assessing the tangible and intangible attributes, strengths and weaknesses of vendors. Whether knowledge and expertise in areas relevant to your businesses’ needs exist, but more importantly, the intent to transfer that knowledge, as that is pivotal for the success of any systems implementation project. Another essential area to assess vendors on is the quality of their services offered, this is highly important as a lot is staked on software’s of this level of complexity, so it is imperative that they run seamlessly and without interruptions. By the end of the RFP process you should have selected 2-3 vendors for the next stage.
- Make sure that the best minds form your side participate in the process, the people who understand your operational needs best and can communicate them in the most comprehensive, efficient and easy to understand manner.
- Optionally, a non-disclosure agreement can be signed before sharing any critical data with candidate companies at this stage to protect valuable company information.
- Set the minimum threshold on requirements before soliciting responses, this will aid in judging vendors against pre-established criteria’s when the responses come in and then subsequently shortlist candidates accordingly.
Once a vendor has been finalized a formal contract defines the future mode of operations and business rules. The RFP can act as a good reference or even definition of the project and guide of the understanding between the vendor and client, however it shouldn’t be considered as the main contractual document by default. A proper, central contract governing all aspect of the partnership should be drawn up, giving protection and legal coverage to either party. Once the system has been implemented and its operations regularized, it is important to periodically review it to make incremental updates and changes. This helps in avoiding the system getting out of date and requiring major overhauls, reducing complexity and costs.
- Make sure early on that you are not wasting time working with a vendor that always has a non-negotiable term in their contract with their clients that is not favorable to your company. So due diligence on the contractual side of the deal should be carried out separately on the selection process to see if a good working and legal fit exists.
By Stacy Whitmore
Sr. Marketing Executive
NetSol Technologies Inc.