How to Select the Best System Integrator for Your Digital Transformation

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: December 7, 2022

Finding the right system integrator for your digital transformation is one of the biggest and most important decisions you can make during your project but how exactly do you find the best systems integrator for your organization? 

Many would argue that finding the best system integrator is even more important than finding the best or the right technology for your transformation. There are many options available, depending on what technology or technologies you're deploying, so it can be overwhelming to find the right systems integrator that matches your strategy, your culture and your goals and objectives. What we want to do today is discuss things to consider and the ways to evaluate and vet the best system integrator for your digital transformation. This is true whether you're implementing ERP software, Human Capital Management, CRM business intelligence, Supply Chain Management or any sort of enterprise-wide technology. These tips and tricks will help you find the best system integrator for your digital transformation.

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Role of System Integrators

When evaluating potential system integrators, the first thing you need to do is define what the role of that system integrator is going to be. Oftentimes, organizations assume that they've got a one-stop shop. They assume that the system integrator will come in and do everything related to their digital transformation and that's just an unrealistic expectation.

Generally, system integrators focus on one type of technology and they focus on deploying and rolling out that technology but they don't necessarily focus on the comprehensive aspects of digital transformation as it relates to operational improvements, organizational changes, overall program management, program governance, risk mitigation, managing internal resources, managing integration and data migration between different systems. All those things are typically outside the purview of system Integrators but regardless of what you do or don't want the system integrator to do, you really want to assess what it is you expect to get from the system integrator and what you expect their role to be on the project.

Even if you find the best system integrator for your business, you are going to need to find ways to manage that system integrator so you hold them accountable, have governance and risk mitigation in place to ensure that your project stays on track. First and foremost, you want to define what the role of the system integrator should be and what you expect to get from that system integrator so you can define the evaluation criteria for that system integrator in a way that best fits your goals and objectives.

Define Project Governance 

Once you've defined the role that you think you want the system integrator to take on, the next step is to define what the overall project governance is going to look like. In other words, how are you going to make decisions on the project, who's accountable for those decisions, whether it be you internally within your organization or whether it be your system integrator or some other third party. Regardless of the party, you want to make sure that you have defined what the roles and responsibilities are across the board, across the entire program including the system integrator but also including your internal resources and your other third-party resources. You also want to define how decisions are made, how much do you really want to delegate to your systems integrator and how much do you really expect from your systems integrator.

Some systems integrators are better at just configuring and building software, others are better at introducing industry best practices or options for how you might run your business using their technology. Regardless of what it is you're looking for, you want to define what that is so you can establish those clear criteria to help you through the evaluation process. This is so important not just because it's going to help you manage your own expectations of what it is you are or are not going to get from your systems integrator but it's also going to affect your overall implementation time and budget.

In other words, if you know that your systems integrator is not good at these areas, you can focus on filling those gaps and augmenting what the systems integrator doesn't do well so that you have a comprehensive project plan and budget that includes all those different activities and budgetary line items that are important to any digital transformation. Defining that project governance up front and having those clear parameters in place is very important and an important next step in your evaluation of potential systems integrators.

Evaluate Methodologies

The next step in your evaluation of systems integrators should be to evaluate the methodologies that your system integrator is using. Most software vendors have their own proprietary methodology that tends to look pretty similar across different software solutions but they have their own unique spin based on what the technology strengths and weaknesses are. Systems integrators typically leverage those methodologies as a starting point, sometimes they'll add their own flair to it, they'll add their own variations based on industry or based on different types of situations, so you really want to dive into and understand what methodology your systems integrator is going to be using, primarily because you don't want to rely just on tribal knowledge or the human limitations of the individuals that might be on your project from your systems integrator.

It's imperative to know that they have a repeatable process that has been proven and tested across multiple clients, so understanding that methodology is critical in evaluating potential systems integrators. Not only that but you also want to look at how are we going to augment that methodology, because again, one way to look at this is the systems integrator is typically filling one work stream on your technology transformation which is the technology work stream. Additionally, there are other work streams that need to be addressed as well change management, data migration, process improvement, project governance, that sort of thing.

All those are examples of work streams that typically don't get addressed by system integrator methodologies because it's not what they're good at, they're good at designing and building software, so we need to figure out not only what is their methodology for designing and building and deploying software but what do we need to do to augment that methodology and who's going to provide that service or that capability if we don't have it internally. Be sure to evaluate those methodologies that your system integrator brings to the table to ensure that it's a good fit for your company and a good fit for where it is you're trying to head as an organization and what you're trying to accomplish with your digital transformation.

Evaluate Individual Team Members

When you're buying services from a systems integrator, you're not only buying the brand name, you're not only buying the methodologies that they bring to the table but you're also buying the individuals that will be on your project. Typically, the systems integrators, especially the larger ones, have really senior people and they're really good at selling. 

Additionally, you've got the lower level people that are going to be "doing and delivering" and oftentimes you don't meet those people that are delivering and doing until you sign a contract and they start working with you. We typically advise our clients that you need to meet those team members and understand who those team members and resources are before you sign on the dotted line, before you commit to any one systems integrator. 

What you want to do here is make sure that you understand what the strengths and weaknesses are of the different team members and  that the system integrator is bringing to the table. Are they bringing a bunch of junior resources where they're learning on your dime and you're going to be paying them to figure out how to do consulting using your company as a case study? Do they have senior people that are well-versed in transformations and have a lot of good background in deploying their technology? Or is it a combination of those two? Those are the sorts of questions you want to ask and make sure you dig into when you're evaluating potential systems integrators. They might have the best marketing collateral and the best powerpoint collateral in the world but if they don't have the substance behind that, in terms of experience and qualified resources that will be working on your project, then it doesn't matter. 

You want to make sure you evaluate not just the methodologies, the brand powerpoint presentations and the sales collateral, more importantly, you want to look at what individuals are going to be on the project. Are these individuals certified in the software and do they round out a complete picture of what needs to be addressed within the scope of your transformation?

Define an Overall Program Plan

Next, now you will want to shift gears and define what the overall program plan is and we say program plan, not project plan, because program entails the plan not just for the system integrator but also the plan for your change management, the data migration, program management, all the pieces your internal team are doing.

What this also does, this acts as an exercise of defining your program plan first, before you commit to the systems integrator, is it puts you in the driver's seat so you're in control of the project you're managing and directing traffic.

The systems integrator is conforming to your program rather than coming in and telling you how you're going to run the project. Certainly you want to use their input and their proposal as an input into your program plan but you don't want to defer completely to the systems integrator. Take control and make it your project, your plan. The integrator is simply working within one work stream of that overall program plan. This has the benefit of giving you a complete picture of what the time and the overall project cost is going to be, not just for the systems integrator but for the entire project.

Last, make sure the integrator fits into your culture, into your business and into your goals and objectives for the transformation. These are just some of the criteria you should consider in evaluating potential systems integrators.

If you are looking to strategize an upcoming transformation or are looking at selecting an ERP system, we would love to give you some insights. Feel free to reach out to me here with any questions you may have eric.kimberling@thirdstage-consulting.com

Be sure to download the newly released 2023 Digital Transformation Report to garner additional industry insight and project best practices. https://www.thirdstage-consulting.com/reports/2023-digital-transformation-r

Author:
Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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