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Cooperation Amongst Competitors? Remember, All Your Vendors Work for You!

by Kevin G. on July 31, 2014

Not so long ago, organizations were able to get all their services in a particular area from one vendor. Whether those services where Engineering, Accounting, GIS, or virtually anything that needed outsourcing. Today things have drastically changed, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While many companies are able to continue to provide A to Z services in a particular area, they often have to adapt to working with other vendors for a variety of reasons.
Specialization has created an environment in which not all vendors can provide all services equally. Simply put, to complete projects, organizations often have to work with multiple vendors to receive the best and most affordable solutions. This is a change that many vendors have struggled making, and the end result has been either a lack of service or a delay in service for the organizations that pay them. At Schneider Geospatial and Schneider Geomatics, we are often working with other vendors to fulfill the needs of our customers. Many times, we work with other vendors that provide services that we also provide. The key to providing our customers with the service they need and deserve is to be willing to work with other vendors, whom often are our competitors.
We have experienced this new way of doing business in all areas of our organization; including: GIS/Technology, Engineering, and Surveying. Because many engineering projects take years to complete, we are often faced with the challenge of completing only a portion of the project. Due to previous administrations, time constraints, areas of specialization or other factors, it is common for us to coordinate our efforts with another engineering firm on the same project or an extension of an existing project.
The same often applies in to our GIS/Technology division within Schneider Geospatial. Last year, we were been asked to provide several different organizations with a service or services that their current GIS vendor either could not provide or provided to a lesser extent. I will be the first to tell you that this is often not a comfortable situation for us or the other vendor. However, we have always remembered that we are paid by our customers, our customers have chosen us to provide a product or perform a service, and that is exactly what we strive to do.
So, when you are an organization that finds yourself in a situation where you need to work with multiple vendors and possibly vendors that are competitors on some level, what do you do? First and foremost, remember that they work for you. You are in charge. Here are 5 simple steps to make sure that you are able to navigate through this challenge:
  1. Schedule a meeting to introduce everyone that will be working on the project. This seems obvious but is seldom done. This simple introduction will alleviate tension and make for a better working environment.
  2. Clearly define your project expectations. What services are to be rendered by each vendor? Are there any phases to the project that aren’t being addressed? Give special attention to the areas that vendor services could overlap. Feel free to ask you vendors if there is a better way of coving every phase of the project based upon their experience. 
  3. Designate one person as a point of contact. Believe it or not, communication is often a problem within any organization. Now, imagine if two or more vendors are asked to share information amongst several different individuals at each organization. This process will fail even with the best of intentions. Having a designated liaison with every party involved seems simple but is invaluable. 
  4. Set the expectation of cooperation. I am sure that it will come as no surprise to you that sometimes vendors don’t play nice. Unfortunately, we have seen projects delayed months because a vendor has simply refused to work with us until our customer had to have a very uncomfortable meeting with them and simply make them comply. Let each vendor know at the beginning of the project that they will be required to coordinate their efforts with other vendors when necessary…no exceptions. 
  5. Remind everyone that you are the paying customer. Yes, we enjoy what we do. We have a tremendous amount of pride in a job well done, we feel like we are really making a difference when we are able to provide our customer with a product or service that saves them time and money. However, we also enjoy getting paid, and I have no problem telling you that because it is true. So you need to have no problem telling your vendors that if they are unwilling to work with anyone on the project team, you will replace them.
In today’s business environment, there a numerous reasons why you may be in a situation in which you will need outside vendors, whom may even be competitors, to work together. By following these simple steps, you will set the expectations, clearly define the communication, and save everyone involved lots and lots of headaches. Remember, you are the customer and your vendors need to remember the customer is always right.