February 12, 2013 Back to All Blogs

Don’t let this happen to you (or me) – a technology vendor relationship gone awry

The explosive growth in the performance measurement enterprise in health care and education means state leaders are managing much larger web and technology budgets. At a time when austerity and budget cuts are the norm, that places a lot of pressure on leadership (and those they hire) to get it right.

An ugly lawsuit between the Florida Department of Education and a Tallahassee technology company hired to develop practice lessons and tests to support the state’s new academic standards offers a cautionary tale.

Both sides claim the other acted too slowly and too sloppily on the project. Meanwhile the $20 million contract has been terminated and Florida educators are left without a helpful tool to prepare students for assessments of the new standards set to begin in the 2014-15 school year.

What a mess. Could it have been avoided? Are state leaders accustomed to procuring bus fleets and school lunches, ill prepared for more complex projects like content-rich websites? Should private-sector technology companies recognize a higher standard for responsiveness and problem solving when working for taxpayer-funded agencies?

As a technology solutions company working on behalf of government agencies and organizations with high-stakes technology projects, this example makes us even more mindful of the importance of a strong vendor/client relationship. We’ve always made a distinction between acting as a mere vendor or serving as a partner. A vendor will come in and fix a specific problem or provide a service. A partner takes the time to learn enough about our clients – their mission, business environment and day-to-day challenges – to become an extension of the team.

Project managers on both sides can also strengthen the vendor/client working relationship by setting clear expectations, deadlines, and deliverables in writing. Both sides should share the same definition of success at all stages of the project and check in regularly to evaluate whether the project is on track.

If you have managed complex web projects and have advice, please share it in an e-mail (info (at) panth.com), Tweet or direct message to @PanthTech. We would like to compile lessons learned and guidance in a future blogpost and start a solutionary conversation in the Twittersphere using the hashtag: #PreventTechFail.

We would all be grateful to learn from the experience and insight that exists.

With all the funding being made available for public reporting in health care and education, there is a growing imperative to hone the vendor/client relationship and leadership capacity to manage their technology budgets efficiently and effectively.

Mark Tobias (@PanthTech) is president of Pantheon, which combines technology expertise and a deep knowledge of health care, education, and social impact markets to provide online technology solutions for nonprofits, associations, and government.