50 Ways to Leave Your Vendor

Leaving your lover just might be easier than leaving your vendor, particularly if you have developed a relationship over time and their products are intertwined throughout your organization and infrastructure.

Back in the 1970s, Paul Simon had a hit with "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."

"You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free.

Unfortunately in this day and age, leaving your lover just might be easier than leaving your vendor, particularly if you have developed a relationship over time and their products are intertwined throughout your organization and infrastructure.

This is something that vendors who are trying to woo you often gloss over when they offer their competing products at a bargain price. Just the other day, salespeople were sitting in my office telling just how easy it would be to transition from their competitor's product to theirs. It sounded so simple and elegant, and they assured me that they would "be there for me" to help me through the transition. Right. And if I believe that, I should have "all-day sucker" tattooed on my forehead.

The fact of the matter is that making a significant change in a product that is in use in your organization can be more difficult to extricate yourself from than a tar pit - particularly if it means a big loss of revenue to a vendor. A perfect example is Massachusetts' attempt to switch to the Open Document Format. Clearly, Microsoft did not want that happening. But this is certainly not limited to Microsoft. Any indication to a vendor that they may be replaced can scale from verbal protests, to lawsuits, to having your service cut off. So, if you are considering such a shift, you'll need to do a lot of careful planning.

The first place to start is by looking at your contract (if you have one) with your current vendor. We often tend to gloss over terms and conditions when signing on the dotted line, but those can come back to haunt you when it's time to say goodbye. So get out the magnifying glass and make friends with your general counsel to get their opinion on any gotchas that may be buried in the contract.

Second, do a thorough in-house analysis of the reach of the particular product or products that you want to sunset. Don't be myopic in your evaluation by just looking at your department. You need to comb the entire organization not once, but numerous times, to make sure that you know who could be affected by the change.

Third, determine if the transition is going to happen all at once or be phased in. This can depend on a number of variables, including the type of product or services being changed/introduced, as well as funding streams, organizational preparedness, the size of the undertaking, etc. If it truly is going to be an all-at-once transition, you need to try and keep things quiet to avoid pre-emptive strikes by your soon-to-be-spurned lover and feel confident that you have the power to deal with any retaliation or disruption that might arise from an unhappy provider. Here are a few tips:

  1. Assign someone to manage the transition project; this is not a spare-time job.
  2. Communicate with those who are going to be affected and get their input in the planning process.
  3. Review the project plan and particularly stress looking for dependencies.
  4. Review it again for dependencies and make sure you have done a risk analysis and have identified contingency options for all possible behavior.
  5. Buy some antacid.
  6. Get management sign off and move forward.

Even with careful planning, this kind of change can be challenging at the least, and nightmarish at the worst. However, your planning efforts should pay dividends in the success of the project. Thorough planning should mitigate the worst problems (and something always seems to crop up that is problematic), while lack of planning can get you into hot water real fast.

How long will the process take? It depends on the scope and how intertwined the product is in your organization's operations. Some things can be done practically overnight and remain almost totally transparent to users, while other times, it can take years to finally rid yourself of the last vestiges of a vendor. The good news is that when you are done, you don't have to pay alimony. Or maybe you do. How closely did you read your terms and conditions?

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