With a number of options on the market today, it can be a real challenge when it comes to purchasing a software solution for your college athletics department. You may have never engaged in this type of process previously, and in some cases, technology might even scare you. However, if you develop a system to follow as you evaluate potential technology solutions, you will be in a much better position to make the best decision for your department. Technology companies do not want unhappy clients because those clients serve as bad references. Making an uninformed or poor decision when selecting a technology vendor that cannot meet your needs will lead to a lack of results and unsatisfied coaches and administrators. In order to avoid a situation which is bad for both your department and the technology vendor, consider the following when evaluating technology providers:
1. Answer the following question: Why do we need to purchase a technology solution? It is important to understand exactly why you are engaging in the process of purchasing a technology solution, as this will assist you in determining the criteria on which you will make your decision. Does your current system(s) no longer satisfy your needs? Are you attempting to streamline your operations and eliminate disparate systems within the department? Are you looking for a solution that will help you better manage risk? The answers to these more specific questions will help you determine your need and establish criteria.
2. Establish specific criteria on which you will make your decision and weight each item. Creating an objective list of criteria will assist you significantly before you entertain presentations from vendors. You are in the best position to determine the specific challenges you are attempting to overcome through the implementation of a technology solution. You are far better off determining the decision criteria and assigning a level of importance to each item BEFORE engaging in the sales process. Examples of selection criteria include, specific features/services, cost, recommendations from specific groups (e.g., coaches) and experience of the vendor. Engage all potential users in the process and share the criterion with these individuals/group to provide a transparency. Following the sales presentations, add up the weighted score in each criteria category.
3. Check references! Many buyers prefer to contact references that the technology vendor DOES NOT provide, knowing that the references provided by the vendor will generally be glowing. Continue to do just that; however, be sure you also make contact with the obviously positive references, as well. The vendor must have done something right to achieve a high level of satisfaction with that client, so it is a good idea to find out more about their experience and evaluate whether you are likely to experience the same results. Further, contact references that are using the same product or product components you intend to purchase. Make sure it’s an “apples to apples” comparison by asking specific questions about functionality and user experience. For example, if you are considering implementing a solution for the entire department (i.e., recruiting for all sports, compliance monitoring, roster management, forms, campus integration), you should ask for at least 3-5 references that have implemented and are currently using these same product features at the same level for at least two years. An institution that has only a few sports or one area (e.g., compliance) using components of an incomplete system will have had a very different experience than an institution that has implemented the same vendor’s system on a broader scale. You will want to evaluate the experience of institutions that have purchased the same product/features that you intend to purchase.
4. If the Vendor cannot provide a reference for a product or specific feature, use extreme caution. Be extremely cautious of a vendor that claims to have a certain product feature, but cannot produce a reference for it. This may be an indication that the product is not yet fully developed or your department may be one of the first customers to use it. In the technology industry, a product is not truly tested until it has been use by actual customers. Following that initial release of product, there will usually need to be tweaks or upgrades added to it before it is truly optimal. If the product or feature in question is high on your decision-making criteria, you may want to consider another provider.
5. Consider Vendor Experience. When you hire a coach, one of the first qualities you consider is the experience level of your candidates. If the position is for a head coach, you know right from the start that you want an experienced coach and a proven leader, and you’re willing to compensate that individual for those qualities. If you’re hiring a graduate assistant, experience is not as important as potential, and the compensation paid to that individual will reflect the skill set. Apply the same logic to your potential technology provider. A more experienced company will offer a proven system and a demonstrated track record in implementing, training and servicing your coaches and staff. While you may have to pay a bit more in some cases for that added value, it is well worth the investment in the long-run.
Finally, purchasing a product or service can be an emotional decision, and unfortunately, this does not always lead to a good decision. Determine why you are purchasing a technology solution, establish objective criteria on which your decision will be based before you begin the sales process and assign a weighted value to each criterion, check references and be sure you consider the experience level of each potential provider. Using a system to evaluate potential providers will more often than not lead to a better solution for your department and a mutually beneficial long term relationship with your provider.