Trust And Confidence Are Keys To Choosing A Web Services Provider

After 40 years in the industry and as the former president and CEO of one of the countrys largest insurers, Ive heard it all. Here are a few examples.

“Our technology will solve that problem for you” (it was a problem the consultant had identified). “Our technology is cutting-edge, no one else is doing this.” “Well get it done on time and within budget.” “We dont quite have it finished, but when we do its going to be great.”

One of the biggest challenges when considering outsourcing partners is determining what is fiction and what is non-fiction. Im not talking about buying a book on technology for $30 at the local bookstore. This is one of the most important investments a company will make, a major capital expenditure that had better have an excellent return on investment.

When meeting with prospective technology partners, try not to listen to what they say about their technology until you know them as business thinkers and managers. Will they be compatible with the culture and philosophy of your organization? Will they be able to succeed with the IT infrastructure that is in place to manage them? How well do they know your business and the real-world environment? How well do they know the insurance businessnot just today, but what we may be facing two or five years down the road? Are they problem-solvers or tech geeks? Do they know what a business strategy is, or do they live in the world of tactics only?

The most critical criteria for evaluating technology vendors are “trust” and “confidence.” Leave it to the CIO and CTO to evaluate the vendors technology and make sure its right for the company.

You want to know if the consultants can recognize risks, if they understand how their technology fits into the companys short- and long-term business objectives, and do they really understand the problems and opportunities the company is facing. Will they be able to integrate their product within the current environment easily? Do they seem like the kind of people who will be able to fit in well with other consultants that are assisting the company, especially when they have to come together to solve a problem?

Then theres the big question as it relates to trust and confidence. If the partner has a particular expertise that is unfamiliar to my organization, do you trust and have enough confidence in the technology solution provider to follow their guidance? If the answer is “no,” then there is no choice but to keep evaluating providers.

One thing every CEO (who is paying attention) knows is that no matter how great the product might be, if the company cannot executeon time, on budget and with no bugsthen the endeavor will be a very costly failure in time and money.

Fully engaging in Web services is a key business strategy, one that will differentiate the company and possibly leapfrog how its business is conducted almost overnight. Like any business strategy, it must be embraced by every level of management, from the executive suite to the IT department.

One of the most important goals is to make sure top management within the organization is involved and onboard with the decision-making process. Building the business infrastructure and understanding roles and responsibilities for supporting an outsourcing relationship will help ensure success.

If you dont have buy-in from key players within the organization, implementing an outsourced technology solution can be an uphill battle. A well-informed and involved management team also can resolve issues quickly that may arise once the Web design and development is under way.

Before deciding to outsource, the management team should consider whether the technology is critical to your business strategy and whether your company has the skills and knowledge to meet corporate timelines for implementation.

A common mistake to avoid as a management team is to categorize the technology platform as a singular project among many others. It should be viewed as an integral component of the entire company, one that will be at the very core of its success.

Metrics also are critical. Clear expectations and proper governance of each aspect of the technology solution development must be identified and agreed upon at the outset. Senior management should continually make sure that the design plan is meeting the three key components of time (schedule/completion date), resources (people/cost) and performance (scope/quality). There should be regular reporting of major milestones and roadblocks. Most important, there should never be any surprises.

Without confidence, there cannot be trust.

Joe Stinnette is the former president and CEO of Firemans Fund Insurance Company and currently a board member at ePolicy Solutions (www.epolicysolutions.com).


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 11, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.