Interview with Eric Dirst

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Executive Interview SeriesWe recently interviewed Eric Dirst, Senior VP, CIO, and Interim President for Online Services at DeVry, to find out more about how enterprise-level organizations make tech-buying decisions—part of our Executive Interview Series on IT Central Station!

As background, DeVry is fast becoming the leading global provider of career-oriented educational services and selected as one of InformationWeek’s Top 250 Innovators for 2012. Eric has emerged as a key leader for DeVry and provided some awesome insights from his experiences that we’d like to highlight with the following Q&A:

When looking for technology solutions offered by vendors, how do you typically evaluate the products?

Eric Dirst
Eric Dirst

Eric clearly states that they set up a competitive environment for vendors wanting to end up on DeVry’s short list. They like to narrow their choice down to at least two vendors and negotiate so that pricing is similar, and therefore not part of the decision process. He described how they often require software vendors to perform a proof of concept by installing onsite and verifying the software works prior to buying.

He mentioned the importance of involving their legal and supply management departments, who can uncover issues with vendors that might not be apparent to the tech users evaluating the product. Other factors they consider include the vendor’s account management, technical support capabilities, total cost of ownership, and the prospects for long-term scalability of the solution.

Who are the main stakeholders in your decision-making process and what roles do they have?

In DeVry’s environment, Eric describes how a solution architect and an enterprise architect are critical roles to ensure that both business  process needs are met (solution architect) and IT and business architecture needs are met (enterprise architect). Other key stakeholders include infrastructure, security, legal, supply management, as well as the business unit users of the solution.

Has your decision-making process changed for these offerings in the last five years?

Instead of using the master service agreement template from a vendor, DeVry has the vendor use the template DeVry developed after years of continuing to have to revise the vendor templates due to inadequate protections for DeVry. Eric says, “We realized that we were repeatedly demanding the same rigorous standards of service levels in each agreement.” DeVry thought it would be better to create their own master services agreement so they do not have to repeat the same process with each vendor.

What requirements do you consider unique to your industry involving security, scalability, or service levels?

Since DeVry leverages cloud services, they have built their own version of a Cloud Services Agreement, which DeVry built by combining various evolving public standards and DeVry’s own unique requirements. This document covers special security, scalability, and service levels required by DeVry to utilize cloud services and protect DeVry and their students.

Since DeVry also operates multiple medical schools, this requires DeVry to comply with certain HIPAA guidelines. As an educational provider, DeVry also has to comply with FERPA and various requirements from domestic and international educational accreditation bodies. Lastly, as a publicly traded entity, DeVry also complies with Sarbanes-Oxley requirements.

Explain the most interesting tech-buying process you went through as an organization.

Purchasing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution provided the most interesting challenge for DeVry.  After a lengthy evaluation process for DeVry’s ERP Student Information System, something did not seem right. Eric ended up hiring ERP negotiators who were able to add quite a bit of value to their buying decision. The ERP negotiators not only saved DeVry money, but they added value by ensuring stakeholder alignment with the decision, and ensuring we negotiated a tight contract with appropriate risk mitigation and exit clauses.

Who’s your favorite vendor now? Describe them with one or two words.

Eric was quick to answer Salesforce.com. The reason they are his favorite is because DeVry’s users consider this vendor their favorite for managing their relationships with our students.

Eric’s unique perspective on tech buying highlights a mature enterprise-level process that CIOs and decision makers who visit IT Central Station can gain from—we plan to keep providing these perspectives in upcoming posts. Station Master at IT Central Station, Russell Rothstein introduced this interview series and provides these slides on lessons learned for supplier management.

Let us know your comments and whom you know would be a good candidate for a future post on our Executive Interview Series. Also check our  interview with Diane Schwarz of Textron—a previous post for our Executive Interview Series!

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