Using Scorecards to Avoid Surprises and Improve Supplier Relationships

Rob Waddell

Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer, Apex Systems

Rob holds the position of Senior Vice President, CIO, and Principal at Apex Systems. He has over 34 years of experience in Information Technology and joined Apex in December, 2006.

At Apex Systems, scorecards play an integral role in supplier management. SVP and CIO Rob Waddell relies heavily on customized and collaboratively-built scorecards to spark dialogue and action on both sides of key vendor partnerships. Bullhorn’s Senior Director of Enterprise Sales Jason Smith sits down with Rob to get his insights about the value of scorecarding for enterprise staffing firms.


Jason Smith (JS): Rob, I know you’re a huge advocate of using scorecards to track supplier performance. Would you consider yourself an evangelist for their use?

Rob Waddell (RW): Absolutely. Supplier management is a key function of my CIO role. Scorecards give me the ability to quickly assimilate a huge volume of data and analyze my team’s financial and personnel investments. Time and again, the scorecard has been the mechanism that not only allows me to hold my vendors accountable but also to hold honest conversations that create healthier partnerships.


JS: On a practical level, how does your internal team use scorecards before and during an engagement?

RW: There’s an important internal benefit to scorecards as it drives consensus building within your own organization to make sure everyone understands the rules of engagement and the service levels that are expected. From the onset, both teams need to understand where the guardrails are, so there’s no ambiguity. When you’re troubleshooting a stressful issue, it’s easy to get caught up in emotions and opinions, but the scorecard translates the experience into facts.

For suppliers, the scorecard provides a destination for the output of all the activities and actions taking place on an ongoing basis. The process prompts a cadence to have proactive conversations on a regular basis. That way, you’re not saving everything up for an unproductive Quarterly Business Review. The QBR is not the time for surprises; with an effective scorecard program, tough issues are already on the table and you can save time by getting straight to work on resolution.


JS: How does the scorecarding process evolve over time?

RW: Over time, you definitely have to massage the elements you track based on feedback from both parties. You can’t expect a slam dunk on every metric right at the beginning, but just the process of implementing a scorecard elevates the conversations and creates a runway for incremental improvements.

I always tell my team, call things and call them right. Make it red if it’s red, so it can be green for the next two years within the context that we’re committed to continued improvement. Sometimes the best relationships are forged from the ashes.


JS: Have you had any vendors who have pushed back against the process and what have you learned as a result?

RW: Yes, and we get that. The scorecard serves as a platform for discussion rather than dictatorship. There’s room for healthy debate about how the scores are determined and where they fall out. We see it as an iterative process that creates a fair playing field for everyone. If we don’t meet our commitments to a partner, we fully expect to be challenged. We’re always open to conversations about reverse scorecards and mutually beneficial process improvements. If both teams are accountable, they are more invested in the long-term success of the relationship.


JS: What are some of the metrics you use in your scorecards? Are they common across all provider segments or do you customize them for the vendor?

RW: Our general approach is to assign broad-based categories, which might include things like responsiveness, performance quality, innovation, and risk management. Each of those categories might have three to four different measures, which are often custom to the vendor.

So for example, under responsiveness we might track average time to complete support tickets or availability of the engineering and account teams after a new release or feature goes out. In risk management, we would evaluate things like application downtime or Quality of Service (QoS) performance. The goal is to remove as much subjectivity out of the equations as possible. Even in instances where there are judgment calls, we work to provide clear and uncompromising feedback that fills in the details of a particular score.


RW: I have a question for you now. I know Bullhorn is also using scorecards with its own enterprise clients. What have you learned from that process?

JS: The scorecard initiative has been a huge boost to our client relationships right from the start because it reinforces our corporate philosophy of helping our clients create an incredible customer experience. We welcome the direct input on whether we are consistently achieving that goal.

Many of our large clients are familiar with VMS and MSP scorecards, but not all have implemented their own version for other supplier classes. We’re finding that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but that the collaborative process is giving us deep insight into best practices and what is valued most for each individual partner. It’s been eye-opening and very rewarding.


JS: To finish up, I’d like to ask about the role of the C-suite. Why is it important for a company’s executive leadership team to be involved in the scorecarding process?

RW: Executive focus creates alignment and weight throughout the internal organization and with suppliers. It shows that the scorecard isn’t an idle exercise or afterthought. Internally, it sets a tone and demonstrates ‘leaning in’ to a supplier relationship, so that there’s no question about the commitment to create a culture of communication.