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Tier III: Strategic Fit

Now we arrive at the final—and most subtle—level of assessment. In fact, for many small to medium projects, this level of assessment may not make sense. If a service firm successfully survives Tier I and Tier II assessment with a low-risk rating, you may be able to stop right there. But what if this is a very large project—something you're betting your career on, or the future of the company? If this is the type of project you're outsourcing, you probably want to ask these final questions:

  1. Is the solution we need a "target" solution for your service organization?

  2. What are your current revenue streams?

With the first question, you're trying to determine whether this solution is strategic to the service firm or simply opportunistic revenue. If the service firm is committed to taking this solution to market, they'll be committed to making you successful and appropriate as a reference. You can probe this commitment by asking what marketing activities they have planned for this solution area. The more cryptic the future plans, the more doubtful the commitment. The service firm may be reluctant to open the strategic kimono here, but keep prying. You want their future success to depend on yours. If there is no discernible strategic intent with the solution, be concerned.

The second question is designed to help you assess what phase of maturity the service firm has reached. For a better understanding of maturity levels for professional service organizations, please refer to my previous article, "The Four Phases of Building Professional Services at a Product Company." Maturity level is critical when you consider what services you're asking the firm to perform. For example, if the service firm is squarely in the middle of providing implementation services (lots of pass-through revenue, not a great deal of internal capability), it may be unrealistic to ask them to prime a complex integration or business-consulting project.

As with assessing strategic intent, the service firm will most likely resist questions that assess their overall business model. However, never forget that you possess the ultimate trump card: the checkbook. If you're uncomfortable with the answers concerning strategy and business, close the checkbook. It's better to bolt now, before your futures are married together, than to attempt a painful divorce later in the relationship.

Figure 3 summarizes the flow of Tier III questioning. If a service vendor is assessed as low risk after all three levels of assessment, you potentially have a solid partner for conducting business. Of course, they also need to pass all the other technical, financial, and business requirements you'll throw their way during the RFP process, but at least you know that you have lowered the risk of not finding the right contractor.

Figure 3Figure 3 Tier III evaluation of a professional services firm.

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