These are the people who have lived through the process you are entering. Learn from their experiences.
You wouldn't hire a new employee without checking their references, would you? It seems obvious that you would take the same time and care when selecting a strategic business changing technology such as a remote service system. The only real question is who you should talk to and what you should ask!
A reference should be someone who has already walked the path ahead of you. They have a system, it has devices deployed in the field, and it is actively in use. The purpose of the reference call is to evaluate the vendor, but don't be afraid to see what lessons you can learn along the way. Ask for references from the vendor, but also take advantage of various M2M or remote service shows. These are often great opportunities to meet and speak with many companies in a very short period of time.
Vendor performance for enterprise software comes down to three key elements:
- Does the product do what it is advertised to do?
- Was the implementation process performed competently, on time, and on budget?
- Does the ongoing support provide timely answers and fixes (if needed)?
If there are specific functions that are critical to the success of your project, ask for references that use those features. The real world may reveal unexpected constraints or benefits that were not obvious during your evaluation.
Getting a good read on the implementation process is probably the most difficult aspect of reference checking. Success is often as much a function of the ability of a project team to negotiate internal politics as it is of the vendor's people or methodology! For example, during a panel discussion at an Axeda user conference, four of our most successful customers all agreed that executive commitment to the project was their biggest key to success.
In my experience, all that work you did during the evaluation phase can really pay off during implementation. If you have done your use cases, involved your stakeholders, and purchased a product that can meet the key requirements, the implementation will be straightforward and with low risk. Ask your reference contacts how they interacted with the vendor's implementation team and what lessons they learned.
Measuring ongoing support is a challenge. Support cases are often managed under a period of duress and imperfect information. Were questions understood? How long did it usually take to diagnose the problem? Are the support tools sufficient and easy to use? If a software change was needed, how long did it take? With the increasing use of social networking tools, does the vendor have an active community of users who are willing to share their experience?
Most of all, ask if your reference feels they are dealing with a vendor or a partner. In a partnership, both sides work together for the mutual benefit. Axeda management stresses partnership and customer success as an integral component of our corporate culture. Sure, we don't do everything perfectly every time, but we never forget our mission of customer satisfaction. That's one reason I'm not afraid to write a blog about asking for customer references!
To help keep customer success on top of every employee's mind, Axeda regularly asks our customer's one simple question, "How likely is it that you would recommend Axeda to a friend or colleague?"
When you do your reference calls, you are invited to ask the same question.
Read the related articles for Randy's 10-Step Series:
10 Steps to a Successful Remote Service Evaluation
Step 1. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Have a Vision of What Success Looks Like
Step 2. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Work with Cross Functional Teams
Step 3. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Answer What's in it For Your Customers!
Step 4. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Agree on a Scoring Matrix and an Evaluation Process
Step 5. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Security Matters
Step 6. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Scalability is More Than Just Multiplication
Step 7. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Usability is the Key to User Acceptance
Step 8. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Focus on Total Cost of Ownership
Step 9. Successful Remote Service Evaluations - Reality + Experience = Change