Call Centers

How to Choose the Right Systems Integrator for the Job

Software systems — from off-the-shelf applications to enterprise suites — have become easier to use and implement, Stephen Kerr, a managing consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IS Implementation practice, is the first to admit. That relative ease of implementation is obvious from the end-user’s perspective, at any rate.

Does that mean that systems integration of these applications has become easier as well? Not hardly, Kerr tells CRM Buyer.

“Complexity always exists — it’s just a matter of where it is solved,” he explains. “Vendors conceal complexity within an application so that the client experiences a software application that is easy to use and implement.”

Except for the smallest of companies, there is seldom a single off-the-shelf solution that meets all of a client’s needs, he adds. “That means that organizations have to buy multiple applications, orchestrate and integrate them. The firm still has to tackle the problem of complexity.”

Still Irksome

The firm also has to tackle the problem of selecting the right systems integrator.

Of all the issues that have plagued companies about technology, systems integration and the client/integrator relationship have consistently topped the list. As enterprise applications get easier to use, that has not changed.

What has changed, though, is the manner in which more companies are approaching thetask of partnering with SIs — an approach that can be characterized as more rigorous and more quantitative. Indeed, it is an approach that is remarkably similar to the way companies select their software.

While each project is unique, there are a pieces of general advice that are applicable in most situations:

Decide Whether You Really Need an SI and Why. Some CIOs decide to implement a project in-house, says Terry Flood, COO of Logicalis, a systems integrator. “Sometimes they feel like they can be handled fine in-house, and it may be that they can.”

In other cases, though, the CIO might be reacting to budget pressures to handle a project in-house that really should be outsourced. “CIOs are being asked to do more with less,” Flood tells CRM Buyer.

Therefore, he says, It is important to allocate in-house and budget resourcesaccordingly. Then, when a project arises that truly does need to be outsourced, it will be possible.

Plan, Plan, Plan. It is essential that the right mix of vendors, applications, integration solutions and integrators is carefully calibrated. “Aim to reduce the number of system components involved,” Kerr says — although that objective may conflict with the need to have many vendors’ applications operating together, he points out.

“Give clear scope for integrators — an integrator should not be trying to fix a faulty interface when the fault lies in a vendor application,” he advises.

An SI’s participation in the design phase of the project can be essential to its ultimate success, Flood says. “There are a lot of great products out there, but many require infrastructure that can come as a surprise to a company. You need to make sure the infrastructure — the network, the servers, etc. — is capable of carrying the load you will put on it.”

Other factors to consider are data storage requirements, the need for expanded reporting information, and support for the new processes that will likely beput into place.

In addition, it’s wise to “start integration activities long before the first application is implemented,” says Kerr. Eliminate unknowns as early as possible –get vanilla apps in and start integrating early.”

Keep Personalities Out of the Selection Process. “The most important factor to consider is the experience and process of the systems integrator,” says Robert C.Hamer, chairman and CEO of Primitive Logic, a systems integrator. “Don’t make a decision based on one individual at the firm,” he tells CRM Buyer, noting that it’s a common mistake.

When that one person leaves the project or leaves the firm, the reason you hired the SI walks out the door as well.

Understand the Platform. When selecting an SI, you want to identify one that understands your enterprise platform and can weave all your new and legacy systemsinto it, advises Vijay Chavan, worldwide head of MajescoMastek’s insurance and financial services vertical. MajescoMastek is the U.S. subsidiary of theglobal outsourcing firm Mastek.

Not having a deep understanding of the platform — how the architecture facilitates data warehousing, how it provides a common view of data across the firm throughdistributed databases, and how it protects data integrity and security — can prove to be very costly during implementation.

“The area where most costs are incurred during an integration is informationintegration,” Chavan says, noting that 20 percent to 40 percent of labor costs can be traced to the storage and reconciliation of data, and 70 percent of code in corporate software systems is dedicated to moving data from system to system, according to Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute.

Look for Domain Expertise. One of the easiest ways to save time and money in an implementation is to select an SI that is expert in your particular industry, says Rob Strickland, VP sales and business development of Palisades Technology Partners, an application provider in the mortgage space.

“In this industry, for example, there is legacy technology that has been around for 20 years,” he tells CRM Buyer. “It is familiar to us, and we understand its business flows and processes.” Another SI might not.

Document Who Does What. Contracts with an SI are an entirely different topic, but Flood cannot resist. “Even during the vetting process, you should have adiscussion about ongoing support and service. “People always ask the SI, during the beginning phase, when the application will go live. The dirty little secret tothis business is that it never is fully implemented because of the ongoing care and feeding of the beast that is required. Get an understanding up front of the ongoing support and service plans of the SI.”

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