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Systems integrators specialize in using a variety of technologies to help businesses solve problems, but does it make sense to let the software vendor handle implementation of the software rather than an integrator? The question is, is there a virtuous division of labor between software providers and system implementers that can better ensure the interests of customers?
Web content management vendors are increasingly pushing for market share in the implementation space, but companies should weigh several factors carefully before going that route, according to Real Story Group founder and analyst Tony Byrne. He offered the following tips for those considering whether to hire a systems integrator or use a vendor's professional services team.
Understand the vendor trend
There has been an uptick in software vendors going after services income, and there are several reasons for this:
- The profit factor. Over the past few years, digital engagement projects are getting funded at a much higher level. There's a lot of money on the table; an initial implementation often costs two to eight times more than the software, even if it's more of a subscription model or going to the cloud.
- Skills shortage. Vendors see their partners struggle to keep up with demand. There's a global shortage of people who are skilled in some of the hotter technologies and vendors think maybe they can fill that vacuum.
- Market shifts. Third, there's a lot of movement in the WCM industry. There are rumors of mergers and acquisitions, and companies presumably gearing up for IPOs. So there's pressure to generate revenue and grow head count, so maybe there are some calculations going on there as well.
These kinds of trends go in cycles. You'll see vendors that will get aggressive about going after services money, get burned and realize it's hurting their software business and then radically pull back. From a customer perspective, it's a negative trend.
As a consumer, you want an implementer that is free to advise against using certain software in some situations. Let's say I'm a software vendor and I send in my professional services team for an implementation. I am going to try to apply one of our software technologies for every problem you have. I'm unlikely to tell customers they should try something different. It's not necessarily them being pernicious; it's what they know and their job.
The big-bang mismatch
Users are trying to be more agile and using tools that can evolve over time, with fewer big bang implementations, which is what professional services teams are typically geared up for. They come in, they deploy the software, and leave. They're not typically set up for long-term relationships. If you have a large and complicated project, you want a long-term relationship with a company that is sitting on your side of the table, not the vendor's side.
Understand your needs
There are some cases where it makes sense to work with the vendor's professional services team, usually when there's a big IT team and a lot of developers who are committed to getting up-to-speed on the platform, or maybe they're going to have a small initial implementation. We see that a lot with media companies and in consumer-product goods.
Most of the time -- particularly for more complex implementations that cost six figures or more -- you definitely want a systems integrator. The vendor's professional services team can play a role in terms of architectural validation, backing up the systems integrator and providing certain types of developer education. There's a role for vendor services, but it should be limited and targeted.
Test things out
It's a good idea to have a test phase process for the integrator. Make sure the integrator has had experience with the technology. Bring them in for a daylong Scrum session, to see how good they are at actually gathering requirements and then mocking up a prototype. You can give the same scenario to three different systems integrators, and they'll come up with three very different approaches. It goes back to the old saying: Try before you buy.
The best approach
The ideal scenario is when the customer picks a technology that's a good match for its needs. Then it looks for a systems integrator that's a good fit, and then tests them. Sometimes the integrator may subcontract certain specialized skills from the vendor. That can work well.
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