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The Pros and Cons of Pre-Contract Gap Analyses

When an organization wants to select and implement a new software solution, the following process typically occurs:

1.  The organization compiles a list of requirements for essential and non-essential (but helpful) functions.
2. The organization incorporates the requirements into an RFP to solicit solutions from vendors.
3. The organization selects finalist vendors to provide presentations and demonstrations.
4. The organization selects one preferred vendor based on various qualifications, including how well the vendor’s solution meets the requirements listed in the RFP. A contract between the organization and vendor is executed for delivery of the solution.
5. The preferred vendor conducts a gap analysis to see if there are gaps between the requirements and its solution—and discloses those gaps.
6. The preferred vendor resolves the gaps, which often results in change orders, cost adjustments, and delays.

Sound painful? It can be. Step #5—the gap analysis, and its post-contract timing—is the main culprit. However, without it, an organization will be unaware of solution shortcomings, which can lead to countless problems down the road. So what’s an organization to do?

A Possible Solution

One suggestion: Don’t wait until you choose the preferred vendor for a gap analysis. Have finalist vendors conduct pre-contract gap analyses for you.

You read that right. Pay each finalist vendor to visit your organization for a week to learn about your current and desired software needs. Then pay them to develop and present a report, based on both the RFP and on-site discussions, which outlines how their solution will meet your current and desired software needs—as well as how they will meet any gaps. Among other things, a pre-contract gap analysis will help finalist vendors determine:

Whether programming changes are necessary to meet requirements
Whether functions can be provided through configuration setup, changes in database tables, or some other non-customized solution
What workarounds will be necessary
What functionalities they can't, or won't, provide

Select a preferred vendor based on both their initial proposal and solution report.

Of course, to save time and money, you could select only one finalist vendor for the pre-contract gap analysis. But having multiple finalist vendors creates a competitive environment that can benefit your organization, and can prevent your organization from having to go back to other vendors if you’re dissatisfied with the single finalist vendor’s proposal and solution report, or if contract negotiations prove unsuccessful.

Pros

You can set realistic expectations. By having finalist vendors conduct gap analyses during the selection process, they will gain a better understanding of your organization, and both your essential and nonessential software needs. In turn, your organization gets a better understanding of the functionality and limitations of the proposed solutions. This allows your organization to pinpoint costs for system essentials, including costs to address identified gaps. Your organization can also explore the benefits and costs of optional functions. Knowing the price breakdowns ahead of time will allow your organization to adjust its system requirements list.

You can reduce the need for, or pressure to accept, scope changes and change orders. Adding to, or deleting from, the scope of work after solution implementation is underway can create project delays and frustration. Nailing down gaps—and the preferred vendor’s solutions to meet those gaps—on the front end increases efficiency, helps to ensure best use of project resources, and minimizes unnecessary work or rework. It may also save you expense later on in the process.

Cons

You will incur additional up-front costs. Obviously, your organization will have to pay to bring finalist vendors on-site so they can learn the intricacies of your business and technical environment, and demonstrate their proposed solutions. Expenses will include vendors’ time, costs for transportation, lodging, and meals. These costs will need to be less than those typically incurred in the usual approach, or else any advantage to the modified gap analysis is minimized.

You might encounter resistance. Some finalist vendors might not be willing to invest the time and effort required to travel and conduct gap analyses for a system they may not be selected to implement. They will be more interested in the larger paycheck. Likewise, stakeholders in your own organization might feel that the required costs and time investments are impractical or unrealistic. Remind staff of the upfront investment and take note of which vendors are willing to do the same. 

What Do You Think?

Are the pros of conducting pre-contract gap analyses worth it? Or is the process too expensive and time consuming? Let me know what your experience has been or what your thoughts are on this topic by leaving a comment below or reaching out to me.

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