Buyer Beware

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders News , June 12, 2007

Have you ever worked in a place where new software was selected by "higher ups?" Where you suddenly found yourself using an application you had little or no say in selecting? It can be a recipe for user disgruntlement.

Which is exactly why John Baldwin scuttled the old "top-down" approach when Riley Children's Foundation went shopping for donor management software. Baldwin is the information technology director at the Foundation, which raises some $30 million annually for Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. Needing to replace a 5-year-old donor management application, Baldwin led a 7-member search committee on a vendor search that took about six months, and culminated in a contract that was inked in September 2006.

Described in our forthcoming June issue, Baldwin's approach was a text-book case of how to build consensus. First, the Foundation solicited opinions from the entire staff as to what the new application should do. How? By posting a survey on Riley's intranet. Those comments--some 45 staff members participated--informed the group's detailed RFP. It was a smart way to involve people from the get-go.

As Baldwin told me, sometimes software purchasing decisions are made from on high. "We wanted it to be a staff decision," he said. "We wanted to build consensus around the criteria we needed."

Baldwin's group created a "vendor matrix" based on the survey input. Based on a model created by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the matrix busted out the multiple elements the staff wanted to see in their new fundraising tool. As Riley wove its way through the vendor proposals, the matrix became a type of beacon to help the group stay on track. And because of the way it was created, it kept the voice of the staff--the ultimate users of the software--front and center.

The old saw about "buyer beware" applies to vendors who may sell you a bill of goods. But the slogan has another meaning too. If they take an exclusionary approach in software selection, buyers can easily become their own worst enemies.

Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at

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