With the exception of committed survivalists, we all rely on third-party providers to cover basic needs for food, shelter, clothing—and technology. And although most of us have a pretty good grasp of what we are looking for with respect to food, shelter, and clothing, our confidence with respect to technology providers is shakier. All too often, the value equation with the latter is unbalanced: We provide dollars and open access to information in exchange for a black box labeled TRUST ME. With luck, the experience is mutually acceptable; at other times, the experience leads to confusion and a deeper understanding of what Alice in Wonderland went through. Using standard manufacturing practices can promote luck.
Deliver the BOM. Manufacturers work with a client-provided bill of materials (BOM) to understand the raw materials, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, and quantities necessary for production. When a manufacturer works with a supplier, diagrams are clear and communications are direct. The BOM delivers.
The BOM approach can (and should) be used when talking with prospective technology third-party providers (TPPs). By putting together product specs the manufacturing-as-customer redresses the unbalanced value equation with respect to TPPs. Specifications may be functional and indicate what a device, system, component, or service should provide; who and how many will be using it; processing time and memory needs; usability requirements; security restrictions (e.g., no hardware or software not approved by the DoD).
Specifications may be more contextual and describe compatibility requirements with respect to legacy system components, building or system access constraints (especially with respect to technical support), minimal uptime requirements, response time expectations, environmental and cost considerations, and complete reporting (work expected, work performed, work unfinished, date and time, consistent scheduling).
Requirements Traceability Matrix. Service level agreements (SLAs) should be written according to the BOM to assure that specifications are met. This could lead to a more customized approach on the part of the TPP, along the lines of a requirements traceability matrix. All the better! The typical TPP has clearly protected itself by outlining payment expectations in its contract. The SLA is your protection to assure that your expectations are met.
Take the lead with your TPP interactions by sending proactive and clear signals. Good luck!