For most humans, the fear of public speaking ranks #1 on the list of ‘things most feared’ – often scoring higher than death. Apparently my genes were cross-connected at some point and I actually enjoy opportunities to speak. In my role as a Technology Evangelist for Kinaxis, I jump at any opportunity to talk to our customers or prospects about their technology needs. A typical day might have us sitting down with those who are evaluating the solution and walking through the planning process. The business team would show the capabilities live in the tool and then at the end of the session we will often open up the floor for questions. Usually I’ll get very thought-provoking questions that are quite relevant to the conversation . Occasionally I’ll get “that guy” who wants to sound smart, asking what color network cables we use or why we don’t use 8,192-bit keys rotated on an hourly basis. Recently, I was asked a question that really took me by surprise. The prospect asked, “What questions should we be asking, but aren’t?” At the time, I was taken by surprise and probably didn’t come up with a good answer; however, I’ve given this much thought and now have compiled a list of questions that I think every organization should ask their technology vendor – regardless of what they are buying.
1. How many products are you offering?
In a past life, I spent many years selling supply chain software where at times I had to try to convince the prospect that the five products, each with their own technical stacks, databases, coding standards, and heritages were somehow going to magically work well together. Every inter-module integration adds latency to the process and creates a batch-oriented supply chain planning solution. Concurrent Planning demands the opposite – a single view of data across the entire Supply Chain – with supply and demand that are connected together such that a change in one instantly reflects a change in the other. This is not possible without a single product sitting on a single database.
2. Is the vendor at the forefront of innovation?
This one can be a bit difficult – because ‘marketecture’ can make even the oldest, most convoluted mashing together of multiple platforms to look great. I get a good laugh every now and then watching product release announcements or videos where concepts like in-memory computing are touted as ‘cutting edge’ or the next ‘wave of innovation.’ If a software company is just now catching on…well, you’re late to the party. Look for a vendor who has solid experience in in-memory technology and ideally who has a purpose-built architecture for Supply Chain. Here at Kinaxis, we caught the wave about 15 years ago, and that’s why our purpose-built in-memory model can out-perform every other solution in the space.
3. Can you show me all the tools/files/schedulers that I need to touch to evolve the solution?
This one will make most demo guys cringe. It’s really hard to show the inner workings without airing the dirty laundry! A lot of this came from the migration to Cloud. While early adopters of Cloud built their solutions to Cloud-native, latecomers found themselves scrambling to make their solutions work in a hosted environment. Often this meant the adoption of third-party schedulers, source-control for configuration files, and Citrix for rendering legacy UI’s. Ask the tough questions and see how well the solution was built for the Cloud. Here, we welcome the question…because it’s all in the standard UI.
4. What independent audits prove your cloud security works?
Make sure you find a vendor that has gone through the rigors of becoming SOC 2 Type II certified and is maintaining compliance. It is important that both data center and internal operations are audited on an annual basis to ensure that compliance is maintained over a period of time. Remember, this is more than just ensuring that the data center facility provider is certified, but the software company itself as well. Look for both audits and make sure they are in compliance.
5. Can you create new scenarios live in the software?
Getting scenario planning right is very difficult – that’s why designing the capability into the database code is critical. This approach is unique to Kinaxis, and is yet another reason why our planning engine speed is unrivaled. Many solutions can show the semblance of scenario planning with pre-defined ‘buckets’ where certain what-if planning can occur... but can it be done on the fly? How long does it take to create or setup? Is it limited to certain metrics or views? We hope you’ll ask all vendors to show you how it works.
6. Can you show me some live real-time integration?
I have to admit – I would never want you to ask me this question in my past. Integration using a demo environment can be very difficult…but if it’s difficult in a demo environment, how much harder must it be in a production environment? Any solution that is capable of connecting to SAP using a standard template should be able to be demoed. Any solution that is capable of receiving real-time data, such as with Web Services, should be able to be demoed. Ask to see it live during your next meeting. If I were you, these are the questions that I would be asking. Sure, meeting the business functionality is key…but don’t forget that the underlying technology will be the real make-or-break when it comes to the ongoing evolution of your supply chain. Does the platform have what it takes to make you successful? These questions will help you find out. So, the next time a prospect asks me “what questions should we be asking” I’ll be ready. As for you – you’re one step ahead. You already know what questions to ask… and we hope you will.