Published on 2014/01/21

Three Reasons Institutions Should Work with Vendors

Three Reasons Institutions Should Work with Vendors
Vendor partnerships provide institutions the opportunity to offer high-end services while simultaneously reducing pressure on staff and providing an opportunity to learn best practices.
Why work with a vendor when you can do it yourself? This thought has certainly crossed the mind of every academic administrator at some point.

The nature of our industry presses this question even further; we work at colleges and universities rooted in the belief that our unique blend of knowledge and expertise is unlike anything a student can experience elsewhere.

However, it is possible to use a vendor and still maintain those special ingredients that define the experience your institution provides. In fact, a partnership may enhance what you are great at by allowing you to focus your energy on leveraging your strengths rather than trying to fix your weaknesses. The following are my top three reasons for partnering with a vendor.

1. Because You Won’t Be Good At It

There you go. I said it. Just because we you can imagine executing an initiative or activity well, that doesn’t mean we you can do it well. Having a realistic perspective on this is crucial, because it allows you to know when to ask for help. There are nuances and intuition that come along with practice and experience that must not be taken for granted; vendors have this practice and experience.

After assessing your resources and staff, it’s important to ask if you have the bandwidth and expertise to execute something, or if you merely think you can get your team up to speed if you give it a shot. Leaders need to assess this and know when to jump from the plane alone or go tandem with an expert who has done it before.

2. You Can Try Before You Buy

It’s certainly possible that the vision you have is the answer to your problems. It may also be true that the issue lies elsewhere or within a specific area of your operation you can’t quite identify on your own. By using outside help, you can apply a solution temporarily, which provides expert insight to help you better understand where your true issue lies. This means you will better use your own institution’s resources in the long run and allow a vendor to help you vet the situation in the meantime.

3. Make It a Training Opportunity

Working with an expert vendor means you have a service or product at your fingertips with the potential to inform and develop your team in ways you couldn’t achieve on your own. While we sometimes approach consultants like a visit to the mechanic, letting them fix the issue so we can get back to business, it is far more productive to get under the hood with them to learn how to do it ourselves the next time around.

Vendor services provide a great opportunity to see experts in action. When we make a conscious effort to align our key team members with the consultants, we can vastly improve our internal skill set.

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Readers Comments

Ryan Loche 2014/01/21 at 10:28 am

Vendors are valuable because they are able to look objectively at an institution’s operations and identify gaps. Sometimes, an issue is recognized at one level or in one area of the institution, but not by the administration or the institution at large. Having a third party come in and give what is seen as objective advice can be the push that an administration needs to act on the problem.

Stephen Gotti 2014/01/21 at 9:04 pm

Speaking from the perspective of a vendor, I believe one of our most valuable services is that we willingly take our clients (the institution) through our processes and operations so they can develop skills in the area. In fact, I often encourage my clients to take advantage of this opportunity. Believe me; it benefits us as much as it does you. I’ve had institutions make rather outrageous requests, only to be walked through our services and come to the realization that something they want isn’t feasible or advisable. Vendors are often asked to understand the context and needs of their client institutions, but I believe they need to do the same with us. The more each partner understands the function of the other, the better for the partnership.

Ian Richardson 2014/01/22 at 10:59 pm

I think it’s certainly important for the institution to develop skills in the area in which it’s partnering with a vendor. However, developing that expertise doesn’t necessarily mean letting go of the vendor and taking on the function or activity yourself. In some cases, it’s advantageous to remain in the partnership because it frees up your resources for other areas. Or, you may want to use your newly-developed skills to stickhandle the day-to-day issues, but retain the vendor for longer-term planning (because they have valuable industry knowledge) or bigger problems.

Sally Kerwin 2014/12/08 at 12:28 pm

This is a great piece! At my institution, we trust our vendors to be everything from food providers to IT experts. If a vendor can provide more cost-effective and efficient solutions than your staff can, why would any institution try to manage anything in-house anymore?

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