Know When To Walk Away – Avoiding a Digital Services Disaster

Avoiding failed digital services projects that lack value & a meaningful outcome

Jeff Hamilton

3 Minutes

November 24, 2021

Depending on your age and when you grew up, you may remember an old song by Kenny Rogers called The Gambler. Kenny sings with some sound advice that many vendors who pursue business within the procurement channels of government and industry should live by today: “You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run”.

Thank you, but no thanks

No matter if in the public or private sector, making a good buying decision is critical for citizens and corporate shareholders, however just because an RFP or request for information is released does not mean it will result in a meaningful outcome or be fulfilled on budget & on time. In fact, many procurement processes are destined to fail as they are challenged with some significant conflicts that are guaranteed to deliver a disastrous project.

Today there is nothing wrong with respectfully saying no thank you, acknowledging the amount of work and dedication a government or company has placed in their RFP and the ever-present responsibilities and wishing them the best of luck in their buying process by officially withdrawing.

Vendor due diligence is required as well

Digital transformation for the public good is not always a deliverable that can be met. It should be. More than ever, vendors need to truly understand at the deepest level, what the intent and deliverables are within procurement and ensure they are aligned to deliver successfully. The opportunity to sell a big deal is not really an opportunity if it’s destined for failure and a vendor tries to make it happen for the sake of winning an RFP. Kind of like that old saying; you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole.

All too often a vendor will do almost anything to win that procurement process. But are they really diving deeper to understand? An RFP can deliver a long list of specifications and expectations, but too frequently that laundry list offers incompatibility with many vendors.

What should the process include?

At the end of the day, buyers should be operating a rigorously oriented evidence-based discovery, problem-solving, and design process. A vendor worth partnering with doesn’t just jump, because the RFP says jump. A vendor should be capable of bringing a process to the table that solves problems first, then, and only then, should scalable technologies be designed to support the best available evidence, that most impactfully meets the underlying public needs identified in an iterative approach.

Unfortunately, this is not typically accommodated by a procurement approach, and vendors enter into the fulfillment cycle without seeing what frictions lay ahead and that they will likely be unable to ensure delivery of a high-quality, reliable, and impactful solution.

The potential negative outcomes

The final results under a procurement path that is set up to fail will be tremendously costly, financially, operationally, politically, and corporately. Imagine an outcome that delivers:

  • An extensive and costly list of features, each unconnected by supporting evidence
  • Functionality that’s misaligned with stakeholder and citizen needs, building functionality that ultimately goes unused at best - and is misunderstood, or misused, at worst
  • The undue creation of new pain points, risks, and maintenance costs, including reduced resilience
  • The creation of new liabilities

When the dust settles

When the final step of delivery is complete, in parallel with an inadequate procurement process, solicitation of proposals for building a system to a detailed, preconceived specification without links to evidentiary basis for stakeholder needs, public value, and technological choices, is the market equivalent of engaging unskilled contingent labour to perform important building functions.

For vendors that insist on this "race to the bottom" on both price and quality of outcome and procurement professionals that feed this process, failed projects that lack value and a meaningful outcome will unfortunately still co-exist for the foreseeable future.