Does a software purchase procedure have to be fair?  Who gets to define what is fair?  As an expert in the software being evaluated do you have an ethical responsibility to be sure the evaluation picks the right vendor?

There are many ethical dilemmas that can develop as organizations send out a Request for Proposal (RFP), collect responses and evaluate them. If you are working on the team doing the evaluation – either as an employee or a consultant – you are putting your credibility on the line for whatever choice is made.

Consider all the different parts of the process that could go wrong:

  • Some viable vendors may never even be sent the RFP.
  • A deadline is extended for a vendor that requests it, but not for others.
  • Extra information is provided to some vendors that request it, but not to others.
  • The evaluation criteria fails to put enough weight on whether the software works, instead valuing working relationships with vendors.

Most companies have a procurement process.  Is it enough that you follow what the company had decided its process should be? The trick with ethics is that you cannot allow other people’s definition of ethics to override your own.

You must be sure the process is fair and yet you must take other people’s rights and opinions into consideration. One of the ways to resolve this is to compare the procurement process your team is using to best practices from the Software Engineering Institute or somewhere similar. You may not be involved in the whole cycle,  but you must be sure that your part is done in an unbiased, respectable way.

And what do you do if you think there is a problem? You cannot just stomp out and say you will not be involved. You must carefully bring up your concerns and then escalate them as necessary.  You have a responsibility to help make things better if you can.  The head of Stats Canada did not resign until he had tried his best to get governance of his big data cleaned up. We should follow his example.

We are looking at a rewrite of the CIPS statement of ethics. The most anyone wanted to put in there was that we must follow the procurement process of the organization. To me, that is a minimum. However, the maximum is that we definitely should not cause harm to the organization we were hired to help.

Complaining loudly so vendors or customers become concerned about the process would definitely be over the top. But at a certain point, making noise about your concerns becomes an ethical obligation.