5 Ways Vendor Management Goes Wrong at Cities

July 24, 2019

Eric Johansson, Network Infrastructure Consultant

Cities rely heavily on hardware, software, and technology equipment to run their operations. Each piece of hardware, software, and technology comes from a vendor that you must interact with in some way. In some cases, you may rarely interact with the vendor. In other cases, such as with specialized software, you may interact with the vendor a lot.

When technical issues arise, it’s typically the job of someone at your city to hop on the phone, explain the problem, and push to get it fixed. In other words, a non-technical member of your city staff—already busy with a full plate of work—is expected to pursue resolutions to complex technology problems.

Even if you have an IT support person that you hire, these kinds of technology concerns can sometimes be out of scope for them. It’s not uncommon for you to hear, “Oh, just call the software vendor” when you ask your IT support for help.

City staff saddled with vendor management duties end up having many problems when they are left to resolve issues themselves. Here are a few common issues that can be avoided with experienced vendor management help.

Assumptions about the services that vendors provide
Because many city decision makers do not have a thorough understanding of technology, they can often select a hardware or software vendor without looking carefully at the technical details of the contract. “As long as it works” might be the attitude toward such complex technology.

However, we find that many cities cannot comfortably answer the following questions:

 

  • What do each of the terms in the contract really mean? For example, what is covered 24x7?
  • What services is the vendor supposed to provide—and are they providing those services?
  • Is the city receiving the full technical support that’s included in the contract?
  • What is the total cost of ownership—including the hardware, software, licenses, and support? Are there hidden or unexpected costs? Is the cheapest quote really the least expensive?
  • What’s out of scope? What won’t the vendor provide you?

Starting here with an understanding of the contracted services, your city will have a better grasp about what the vendor should provide to you. Many cities underestimate how much included support they receive, and they often fail to maximize this investment—trying to fix problems themselves or relying on their highly billable IT support person. Or, cities will ask for support that costs extra or is out of scope, without realizing it.

Issues with the communication process
Have you ever had the experience of a vendor suddenly changing into a completely different personality compared to the one you saw during the sales process? To close a deal, vendors often send highly articulate, seasoned people to talk with you and reassure any doubts you may have. Then, they all but disappear after deployment and implementation.

Maybe the vendor isn’t immediately available. Maybe they take a long time to respond to you. When you’re having issues, poor communication is both frustrating and unacceptable—especially if support is included in your contract. In some cases, vendor communication suffers from bureaucracy, mergers and acquisitions, or high turnover.

If you’re having trouble reaching your vendor, it can help to have an IT helpdesk experienced with vendor management to help escalate issues and figure out the root cause of a communication issue—or help you transition to a better vendor if the communication is consistently poor.

Issues with a vendor’s technical knowledge
To cut costs, it is not uncommon to see hardware and software vendors reduce the quality of their support—either through offshoring to another country where wages are cheaper or by relying more heavily on Tier 1 support (in other words, junior or “green” engineers). That means when you call the vendor, you may get frustrated as they read through a script, not understand your problem, and communicate poorly with you. Conversely, the hardware or software support may even be too technical, and the engineers will talk over your head.

It helps to have an experienced IT helpdesk get on the phone with hardware and software vendors to assess the vendor’s technical knowledge, explain the problem accurately, and escalate as appropriate to drive the issue to resolution.

Issues with overall support quality
You’ve got many tasks and distractions on your plate every day. Some vendors may like that situation. It means you have your eye off the ball. While paying an expensive yearly support contract, a vendor still makes money if you’re not paying attention to them.

An experienced IT helpdesk will work closely with hardware and software vendors on a regular basis, holding the vendors accountable to deliver what they have been contracted to do. Support quality usually goes up when someone is watching a vendor closely.

Issues with your city responding appropriately
We need to account for the reverse situation of a city not holding up their end of the bargain. Good hardware and software vendors will proactively work to resolve issues, patch software, or perform needed upgrades. When cities delay in responding for a long, long time or don’t provide vendors the information and approvals they need, your service can be impacted and investments wasted.

This situation may be a sign of an overwhelmed city employee or one with a lack of technical knowledge about the urgency of various to-dos related to your hardware or software. In those cases, it helps to have an experienced IT helpdesk managing this relationship for you so that your hardware and software keeps running smoothly and you are maximizing your investment.


As a highly specialized area of your operations, your technology will benefit from experienced IT professionals talking to the IT professionals who service your hardware and software. By delegating this critical task to skilled technical staff or an IT helpdesk—especially one experienced with municipalities—you will breathe a sigh of relief and know that you are getting the most out of your hardware and software vendor support.

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