Become familiar with the provisions of your current contract. "Make sure you understand what's being delivered," says Greg Chestnut, partner with Bermuda-based Accenture. Look at service levels, and what the vendor should be delivering to you, he says. What are the delivery points? What are the timetables? What is the pricing structure? At a minimum, you want make sure they deliver what they've already agreed to deliver.Study the financial situation and product roadmaps of current and prospective vendors. "Look for a company with very strong managerial leadership that has a clear vision of where they want to take their product," advises Ben Moreland, vice president of information technology with The Hartford Financial Group, Hartford, Conn. Ask them directly, if they were to be acquired, what kind of company are they looking for?

Choose a vendor that adheres to open standards. "Make sure you choose a company that not only adheres to the standards, but is actively involved in the standards committees," says The Hartford's Moreland. Adoption of standards-based systems reduces the risks of having a product phased out, since it can more easily be replaced.

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