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Six Signs Your Vendor’s Not That Into You

April 25, 2017
by Dick Taylor, M.D., executive vice president, MedSys Group
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Feeling neglected? Feeling as if everyone but you has a great healthcare information technology (HCIT) vendor? Concerned about the state of your relationship? Here are six signs your vendor is just not that into you.

The new “upgrade” looks suspiciously like a brand-new system. One you can’t afford. Does the “upgrade” share anything with the “old” system other than a name? A “forklift upgrade” isn’t an upgrade. It’s a brand-new system; one which should be chosen in an open and thoughtful process.

This is especially true if it’s expensive. Don’t be fooled by cheap or discounted licensing. Implementing the “upgrade” will cost a lot more than the license. Working around deficiencies can be worse. If your vendor can’t manage to maintain a rational technology strategy or if they want you to pay enormous costs so they can catch up, they’re not that into you.

They can’t get you off Windows XP. A popular alternative to the “forklift upgrade” is the “baling wire and duct tape” upgrade. Are you on current infrastructure and endpoints? Have they adopted virtualization, web services, cloud, and SDN? Does your vendor know what that is?

Technology moves really quickly. HCIT vendors should too. It doesn’t mean they’re obligated to adopt the fad of the week, but you are paying them to know this stuff – to plan it and put it on the roadmap. What else are they doing with your maintenance dollars? Relationships aren’t just about the high points. They’re about slogging through the mud together. If they’re into you, they will be there through the down years too.

You have only interacted with the sales rep this past year. You are a recurring revenue stream, but are you just a recurring revenue stream? Or is your vendor trying to understand your issues and help you?

One good way to know is to recall who you’ve talked to over the past year. If you’re a CIO, you should know the sales staff. Who else have they brought? Have you talked to R&D lately? Support engineering? Implementation?

If you’re not on their schedule, you’re not on their radar. Given you are paying them to care, you should know they do. Are they into you?

They don’t have any engineers left. You can’t write or maintain software without engineers, which means your vendor must have engineers. Does yours? What is the ratio of engineering staff to sales staff? If it’s not at least 1:1, they’re spending more time selling than building what they’re selling.

This is particularly important when your vendor has acquired part or all of the solutions they sell. If they’ve laid off the old staff and believe the source code will maintain itself, it will not end well. Engineers are expensive and challenging, but they are the crown jewels and seed corn of software development.

Your vendor will need those people to meet the ever-changing needs. Nothing says “I’m not that into you” like getting rid of them.

They don’t have any customers like you left. Do you regularly go to annual meetings of your vendor’s customer base? You should, if only to make sure they actually have a customer base. The worst thing in the world is to be the last rat off the sinking ship. Early rats get their choice of destinations. Late rats are swimming. Avoid swimming!

It’s not total customers. It’s customers like you. Are you a large multi-hospital entity and you’ve noticed the segment meetings only have your people? Are you a multi-specialty group practice and realize the entire audience for the keynote speech is comprised of government officials and contractors? If your vendor doesn’t have anyone else like you, they don’t have anyone else representing your interests in development, testing, bug-fixes, and product roadmaps. Do you want to carry the load yourself?

An eroding customer base makes a vendor very nervous. Nervousness can encourage short-sighted cost cutting, gimmicks to keep sales propped up, and “triaging” the features or modules you desperately need. The one thing it doesn’t encourage is a focus on your problems as opposed to theirs. If you’re the last customer left, your vendor isn’t into anybody, including you.

They’ve moved on to greener fields. Annual HCIT conventions always have a “flavor of the month.” Meaningful use, interoperability, population health, risk sharing, and ICD-10 are just a few past one-hit wonders. This is fine, but is your vendor still paying attention to your day-to-day problems? Or are they doubling down on something which looks profitable and forgetting what matters to you?

Inattention and lack of focus are bad signs. If your vendor seems to be wandering around somewhere else, they can’t possibly be into you.


Dick Taylor, M.D., serves as executive vice president and chief medical officer for MedSys Group, a Frisco, Texas-based healthcare information technology consulting firm. In his position, Dr. Taylor focuses on integrating IT efforts with the clinical and operational ownership needed to capture permanent and positive changes within healthcare institutions. 



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