As summer wanes, it also brings project and budget planning for 2010. For many, this process will include detailing next years costs for your service providers supporting your Ops team - but frequently this excludes taking time to include those providers in the planning conversation.
While in a perfect world, commercial applications targeting our industry would be so flexible, they were a one-size fits all. In the real world we know that is not the case. This is not a negative directed at our providers. They build and deliver solutions based on the largest concentrations of demand and usually meet most of our needs. The rest is largely left to roadmaps - future development of feature and function hoping to enhance their products and appease the majority of users.
A little known recipe to provider roadmaps - the loudest squeak gets the grease first. Loosely translated - the features being developed next may not be the most logical in all cases - but potentially driven by either the loudest or largest customer. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, as you reap the benefits of these customizations in most cases.
However, your team should aim to get on that list of customers that are the "go to group". This can expose you to early development of new features that you can potentially influence, as well as perhaps being invited to test beta releases once development is complete. More importantly, depending on your providers business structure or philosophy, this may move beyond informal high impact customers to structured user groups or advisory boards that are asked for input on a broad array of business development.
A good way to start building this expanded rapport with your providers is to schedule time to speak with them during your budget planning. While your contract and/or pricing may be fixed or multi-year - this does not preclude a conversation with them about your goals and initiatives for 2010. Your provider may introduce you to new capabilities you were not aware of, or perhaps discuss future enhancements scheduled out beyond one or more quarters.
Identify those providers you consider core to your critical business process and schedule time slots with them once you have outlined your 2010 budget and intiatives. This is also an ideal time to bring any current issues or requests before them as well. Foster the sense of partnership you are seeking and acknowledge your interest in not only advocating your roadmap requests but how you can help them asses or test future releases.
I would be interested in feedback as you go through this process and how your service providers respond.