One incredibly important rule: Not all technology vendors are created equal. Many of the issues that stem from IT projects (which arguably don’t actually exist) occur because a school district hires the wrong type of vendor for the results they want to achieve. This misalignment between project objectives and vendor capabilities is incredibly costly and frustrating for everyone involved. Before you get the ball rolling on your next initiative, be sure you understand exactly what type of vendor will best suit the project and what you can realistically expect from the one you choose.
Here are the three major types of vendors:1. The Seller
Sellers are akin to a grocery store. You walk in with a shopping list and expect the store to have the items you’re looking for. They provide value by making your transaction quick and painless, plus optimizing logistics, service, price, and providing suggestions about additional products that may interest you. Tech vendors in this category act similarly and serve an important function, but they are missing a key component that districts need when implementing projects: strategy. This type of vendor won’t talk with you about outcomes, success criteria, or organizational objectives. They’re experts at fulfilling the tactical needs of your organization, but they won’t go too far beyond that. Their success criteria is that they delivered your order and received your payment. While you may walk away with the proper hardware for your organization, implementation, training, and sustainability planning are all completely up to you.2. The Integrator
If a seller is like a grocery store, an integrator is like an HVAC business. These vendors assess your needs, design a solution to fit those needs, install that solution, and ensure that everything is functioning properly. The integrator will have to understand some very specific aspects of your business, have expert knowledge of the systems they’re installing, and may even add a service component to their business model to provide additional maintenance and repair. Ultimately, they’re successful when their solution has been designed and installed. It’s not as simple as the basic purchase you make with a seller, but the experience is not incredibly customized either. There will be no discussion about success criteria or business outcomes, and there’s definitely no discussion about sustainability or support. While this is a good fit in certain situations, results can be disappointing if both parties don’t have a good understanding of the definition of “done.”3. The Partner
While a seller provides products and an integrator designs and implements solutions, a partner lives and dies by business objectives. They’re interested in how the technology project you’re proposing will help you achieve the goals of your organization. How will the WiFi, access control system, or network security measures provide a better education for the students? How will they create a safer environment? Will they result in increased enrollment? The partner is like a holistic physician who looks at the overall health and well-being of your organization and discusses solutions that will contribute to your end goals with a process that outlines measurable success criteria, training, and day two support. Many integrators (and even some sellers) will refer to themselves as partners, but don’t be fooled. True partners will help you get your district closer to its goals.
One of the biggest issues with technology solutions today is that consumers expect a partner experience with an integrator or a seller, which is unfortunate because many organizations desperately need a partner who will help their IT departments transform from black hole cost centers to relevant contributors to organizational objectives. While there is no bad vendor and each type serves a distinct purpose, IT will likely require a true partner if they want to take a step toward earning a seat at the decision-making table.