Best Practices for Supplier Onboarding

Spending multiple years managing an onsite program office and then more recently managing VMS implementations has given me a broad perspective when it comes to supplier onboarding for a VMS program. From sitting onsite and seeing firsthand the risk if workers were not able to start assignments, to running implementations that were delayed due to postponed supplier onboarding, I have learned how critical it is to get ahead of the curve with supplier enablement. 

It has become clear how important it is to ensure this workstream is effective and efficient in order to avoid implementation timeline extensions. Ultimately, a proactive effort will help make sure that supplier onboarding is not a risk to deployment.

Because supplier onboarding can be owned by many people and many departments, there can be a lot of variety as to how it is managed. It varies client to client based on internal or external program management, company size, who holds contracts, who manages the process, etc. There is no one set way to do it, but through many implementation experiences, a few key best practices for effective supplier onboarding have bubbled to the top.


Communicate early and often. Make sure internal stakeholders and users are aware of the plans prior to the suppliers. Many times suppliers may get in touch with their client contact when they hear about the implementation. Arming the client users with information about the program, its goals, timelines and how it will positively impact everyone’s world will help them have a constructive conversation with the inquiring supplier. Also, no one likes to be informed from an external source about a change that is happening at their own firm.


Determine at the start of the implementation who will own the supplier onboarding workstream. Does legal need to be involved? Procurement? HR? Choose resources who will be most effective in taking the suppliers through the process. Also, confirm that those resources are available for the work and do not have major roadblocks that prevent forward movement in the desired timeframe. If there are barriers that cannot be removed, acknowledge this risk upfront and agree on a mitigation strategy. Planning who will do what at the start of the project decreases scrambling later on in the timeline.


Confirm from the get-go if any contracts and/or contract amendments will be needed between the client and supplier or the Managed Service Provider (MSP) and supplier. If so, determine who will own the effort and set a realistic timeframe for execution. Additionally, develop a mitigation strategy early on if a supplier chooses not to participate in the program to avoid the risk of work stoppage or project delay down the road.

Suppliers and their engagement is a critical component of a successful VMS implementation. Through these best practice tips, the onboarding workstream can be a smooth process within the overall project.  When one is excited about launching a new project, sometimes it is easy to forget the fine print. However, by crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s from the start, one can help decrease risk and clear the path for supplier onboarding, even before obstacles become visible to the team.