CWS 3.0: February 22, 2011 - Vol. 3.5

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Column: Kick the Tires

By Jim Lanzalotto

George Santayana, 20th century Spanish philosopher and poet, arguably is the last person you’d associate with the contingent workforce industry.

To me, his most famous contribution to the world -- a single line in Reason in Common Sense -- is what makes him such a sage advisor today for owners of managed services programs. When Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” he wasn’t writing about software. But his aphorism, mixed with some recollections of the recent past, is an apt way to handle the evaluation of some of the next-generation VMS technologies coming on the market.

Historical Perspective

First, a little history. If we take a step back in time and evaluate the genesis of the VMS software market from 1999-2002, we’ll see a number of things. First was a flurry of venture capital entering the market. At one time, I estimated there were roughly 80 start-ups looking for a share of the VMS space.

Most notable is the prevalence of what many call vaporware -- software that exists in the minds of business planners and sales reps. It’s a common ploy in a start-up market, even among firms with working products. There was such a desire to get to market and beat out the competition that features and functionality were overpromised and under delivered.

What we don’t see back at the beginning of the VMS life are many customers. They came later. Primarily because shrewd managers had the foresight and patience to ensure that when they bought a technology, it was functional.

It's the latter observation that makes Santayana’s maxim so apt for managers of contingent workforce programs.

When you evaluate next-generation software for your programs, be sure to kick the tires extra hard. There are many respectable providers of high-end, highly functioning VMS technologies on the market -- companies with solid leaders that have matured into well-run organizations with strong R&D operations and scores of customers. However, with all kinds of new functionality and platforms (e.g. iPhones) on the market, program owners need to follow a few key recommendations:

  • Utilize outside advisory firms such as Gartner, Forrester or Staffing Industry Analysts, the publisher of CWS30, to get a firm understanding of where software is and where it’s headed.
  • Learn from your MSP about which technologies they have seen with other customers or have a chance to demo.
  • Stick with established shops with proven technologies and long-term product roadmaps
  • Consider hybrid MSP/VMS providers to ensure that you have the resources and buy-in to run your program.
  • Make sure that functionality around new business needs, such as SOW, outsourced projects, analytics, internationalization and supply chain management are real and actually perform your specifications. And make sure there’s a managed services component behind the technology to ensure execution.
  • People aren’t pencils. Or post-its. So please don’t think it’s wise to bring a widget procurement tool into the VMS space -- there’s very little relative value in that equation.

VMS techonology has been around for more than a decade. Now there’s a ton of cool, leading-edge technology coming onto the market. And in time, some will stick. But most won’t. To keep the egg off your face, follow some of these suggestions and keep Santayana in mind when making decisions about your program's technologies.

Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm that helps companies grow. He can be reached at jim@scanlonlouis.com or 610.212.5411.You can also follow him at twitter.com/jimlanzalotto.

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