If you’ve been to the TEC Vendor Showcase recently, you’ve probably seen this symbol.
If you wondered what it means, you might have clicked it, and read this:
“TEC Certified Vendors have met the stringent requirements set forth by our analysts. Associate vendors have taken the first step toward their TEC certification by completing our extensive request for information (RFI).”
Concise, yes. But maybe a little light on detail. So here, to shed some light on the nature of RFIs, stringent requirements, and “associate vendors,” is a short explanation of what TEC certification is all about.
Before I talk about the certification process, it’s important to understand that certification is done by request, meaning that vendors ask (and pay for) TEC to certify their products. Each certification we conduct certifies a specific version of a specific product for a single TEC knowledge base (KB)—for example, Vendor A asks to have version 1.0 of Product B certified for the Discrete Manufacturing (ERP) KB. So at any given time, one vendor may have several products listed in our showcase, some certified, some not, and some in progress.
It’s also important to understand that certification is not an endorsement. We’re not promoting the vendor’s products; we’re verifying, objectively, that they do what the vendor says they do. And while there’s no doubt that certification adds credibility, which helps vendors promote their products, TEC’s position is strictly neutral. Certification does entail a few perks for vendors, but more on that later. Let’s talk process.
Before TEC lists any product in the vendor showcase, we ask the vendor to submit a detailed request for information (RFI). The RFI collects a huge amount of information about the vendor and the product being certified. This includes general company information, the industries and customers that the vendor targets, and, most importantly, a detailed list of the product’s support for thousands of functional and technical criteria. In other words, it tells us what the product can do, what technologies it uses, what platforms it runs on, who it’s for, etc.
Once the vendor has completed the RFI, our analysts review it to make sure that the responses make sense. Essentially, they’re expecting the RFI to be consistent with TEC’s own vendor and industry benchmarks, developed through our analyst’s ongoing research of the vendor and its competitors, which is another way of saying that the vendor’s claims should be in line with what you might expect from this or that kind of enterprise software package. Based on those benchmarks and their own experience with the product, the analysts can pick out any responses that are unclear, or suspect, ask the vendor for details, and update TEC’s knowledge bases accordingly.
And presto! The vendor is now an “associate vendor” with their product listed in the showcase.
If they haven’t asked us to certify the product, then we’re done. If they have asked us to certify the product, we add the “Certification in Progress” seal to the product’s showcase listing, and proceed to a vendor briefing.
After validating the vendor’s RFI, TEC kicks off the certification process by arranging a short briefing for our analysts. Most vendor briefings are about half corporate backgrounder and half informal demo.
Normally the vendor will use part of the briefing to put their products in context—giving us an overview of the company’s history, the markets they serve, their main competitors, and their plans for the future. They’ll also send some case studies or customer success stories our way to highlight recent wins. All of this forms the backdrop for the rest of the briefing, which tends to cover the product’s key features, capabilities, and underlying technologies.
For the vendor, the briefing is a chance to position the product competitively, point out its key strengths, and explain why it’s the right solution for a given market. For TEC, the briefing is a chance to get information about the vendor, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and to ask questions about more than just the product’s functionality. Some of this information will be new to our analysts, and be flagged for future research.
After the briefing, our analysts have a clear idea of what they need to know in order to actually certify the product, and we’ll schedule the formal certification demo where the vendor must prove their claims.
Based on the information gathered so far, our analysts put together a demo script that steps through the specific features and functionality they’d like to see demonstrated. Typically, these consist of any criteria that raised questions (or eyebrows) during the RFI validation and vendor briefing, plus a balanced sampling of other RFI criteria.
TEC sends that demo script to the vendor and schedules a certification session where vendor goes through it one criterion at a time to demonstrate exactly how the product provides each feature or function in the script.
Our analysts keep careful track of how well the vendor is able to show support for each feature—taking note of any areas where the product’s capabilities are under- or overrepresented. The idea here is to help the vendor understand what support for each criterion really means, and to adjust the RFI ratings wherever necessary to create the most accurate possible picture of the product’s capabilities. And while it’s important to make sure that the vendor isn’t misrepresenting the product, it’s just as important to make sure that they get full points for areas where the product excels.
After the demo, the analysts feed the updated information back into TEC’s evaluation centers so that IT decision makers using eBestMatch to compare the product to competing products can do so based on information that’s been vetted for accuracy.
Finally, we change the vendor’s status to “certified,” and add the “TEC Certified” seal to the vendor’s profile.
And that’s about it. If it sounds easy, know that the average certification takes several weeks. A typical RFI lists thousands of criteria, and vendors have to respond to each and every one. Once that’s done, our analysts have to review these responses. And all of this happens before we schedule the briefing or even start developing a demo script.
Even under the best of circumstances, software selection is fraught with difficulties, and neither vendors nor buyers are looking for any extra headaches. Or lawsuits. The ideal outcome for both parties is a successful and profitable long-term business relationship where the vendor’s products and the customer’s needs are well aligned.
For software buyers visiting our evaluation centers, certification ensures that the data they’re using to compare solutions are accurate, and that the same process has been used to validate each certified vendor’s claims. In other words, they can compare apples to apples without worrying that someone’s slipped in a lemon. Better still, they can be confident that vendors who score highly are likely to be able to meet their needs.
And that makes a difference for vendors. For one thing, subjecting their products to third party scrutiny improves their standing in the eyes of potential customers. More to the point, clearly communicating what they offer helps them attract and retain customers that are a good fit for their products.
Certified vendors also benefit from exposure to TEC’s global audience of IT professionals. And while a vendor doesn’t have to be certified to appear in our vendor showcase, certified vendors are allowed to be more… ummm… expressive in their showcase descriptions. They can include more marketing material in the showcase, and generally do more to put their products in context, and promote themselves.
Does that mean that if you find a marketing brochure in a certified vendor’s showcase profile you should believe every word of it? No. But you shouldn’t make your decision based on marketing brochures anyway.
Nor should you assume that any product is a perfect solution for your company just because the vendor is certified. Every software selection project should include a rigorous demonstration process where you can see first-hand whether a potential solution does what you need it to do in a way that works for you. It’s a part of our best-practice selection methodology that you ignore at your peril.
What certification provides is an impartial sanity check on the hard data that are the backbone of any successful software selection. For TEC, ensuring the accuracy of those data is simply a part of our role as an impartial advocate for IT decision makers.
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