IT Procurement Essentials for Hardware Maintenance RFPs: Part One of Three

When IT procurement professionals are proactively seeking cost containment and vendor reduction in their 2020 objectives, one of the strategies should include a focus on hardware (data center and/or networking) operational expense, and the proven value propositions of the independent hardware support marketplace. Many of us in this independent support industry, as well as Gartner analysts, have found that standardized RFPs too often include components/questions that don’t apply. Yet, almost all RFPs for hardware maintenance are severely lacking the core elements that would help balance cost reductions with minimized risk. In fact, these RFPs are often two-dimensional and enable misrepresentation and sub-par service. Help us, help you! This three-part blog is designed to educate, while drawing greater attention to internal best practices, critical RFP elements, asset prioritization and a reduced cost without sacrifice to necessary service.

This first installment is going focus on two very specific aspects of data center hardware maintenance service contracts: the importance of internal collaboration, and quality of data.

Create a Culture of Collaboration with Your Internal IT Client

It is unlikely that an over-emphasis on this point could occur – you have got to work closely with the IT branch to have a successful transition event and outcome. Get buy-in from as high in the IT organization as you can, and have this executive make certain his/her staff take this project seriously. It’s not going to be just ONE meeting, but a series of meetings along the course of the RFP process. We have seen many events span more than eight months from inception to conclusion, and when properly organized, gives ample opportunity to get all the necessary consensus and feedback.

A collaborative mindset is important because many times, in order to be effective and successful, you have to get disruptive. In this case, disruptive may be advocating for a different approach in selecting and managing vendors in the space, the “way things have always been done” should be challenged. Don’t shy away from that, but do make certain that this collaborative mindset ensures both IT procurement and your stakeholder(s) have a clear and mutual understanding of these types of topics:

  • How do you identify, evaluate, and mitigate availability/uptime interruption risk in your IT organization?
  • What interruption risk might your potential vendor’s policies & practices put you in?
  • What amount of risk are you willing to accept, on what assets grouping(s) and for what reward?
  • Apart from interruption risk, what commercial risk might you encounter?
  • If you are encountering fear, uncertainly or doubt projected at you, how do you determine what is real from what is artificial (FUD)?
  • Are there any vendor policies that restrict you from a certain course of action? What solutions might be found for these policies?
  • How will the group score and rank the offerings? What weighting might you put on savings, as compared to quality and certainty/clarity of solution?

These conversations should flesh-out a prioritized list of requirements and goals. So, sit with your IT partners and discuss, then prioritize. Both you and your IT stake-holders need to have a very good understanding of how risk can be manifest in data center/networking equipment support contracts, and what degree of risk is acceptable for what amount of reward. In doing this you will be far better prepared to implement tactics guided by a strategy that is directly focused on achieving these prioritized objectives. The very last situation you want is to contract for a terrific savings that is loaded with risk you didn’t see coming. We hear of the horror stories, but know they really can be avoided!

Work to Get the Most Detailed Data Possible, Up-front

Without detailed information about the server/storage/network assets, and specifically the customizable/scalable configuration of these assets, your vendor contestants will have to guess or make assumptions about very important details. Details that, if unknown by the vendor support team, will make it difficult if not impossible for them to meet an agreed SLA. A secondary issue, which carries a commercial risk, is that without specific details a vendor could (inaccurately) assume the lowest configuration possible and bid accordingly. This looks great on the surface because the perception of savings can make you look heroic, but your vendor is likely to claim that certain aspects (multiple CPUs in a system, for example) are not covered under the contract. They may then request change orders which may not only degrade your savings, but create a situation where your second place vendor actually had the best value offering. Oy! What a mess. Clarity is best!

At a minimum, you should have this information. And frankly, this is abbreviated and shown here as an illustration:

For all devices types:

  • Make
  • Model
  • Serial number
  • Location (country, city, state, facility, room/cage)
  • Preferred service level

For servers:

  • Number of CPU cores and MHz
  • Amount of physical memory
  • Number and capacity of storage devices: disk and tape
  • The number of Host Bus Adapters (HBAs)
  • The presence of any externally attached devices

For mass storage:

  • Number of and capacity of storage devices: disk or tape
  • The amount and capacity of cache memory

For configurable network devices your best action is to run an “inventory” command:

  • For Cisco devices this is: show inventory, and in some cases show diag or show module – the other OEMs have their own corollary.

This may sound a bit daunting, but your IT and network staff should either already have this information, or be able to collect most, if not all. It is REALLY important to get as much of this information as possible.

Applying careful consideration and diligent follow-through to these topics will be tremendously helpful in your next hardware maintenance service RFP for data center equipment. Look for Parts Two and Three of this article for additional and more specific recommendations.

About the Author

Brent joined XSi in 2020, bringing with him 30 years of marketing expertise, mostly IT and healthcare. Early in his career, he worked for a few of the country’s leading brand development firms in the Twin Cities, but landed firmly in IT and Independent Hardware Maintenance in 2002. During his IT Maintenance career, he worked at four IT maintainers (Qualtech/QSGI, Top Gun Technology, SMS/Curvature, SSCS), helping two of them from their origins to a recognized and successful business entity. In all instances, he managed the marketing departments, was the primary liaison with industry analysts (e.g. Gartner, IDC) and oversaw all marketing objectives, strategies and tactics. His greatest strengths have been in brand or market positioning and building a solid digital presence. His interests include: prairie restoration and habitat improvement projects, pollinator education, movies, music, craft beer, cooking, cast iron cookware restoration, youth education, fishing, hunting and BWCA camping