Rubenstein Justman Management Consultants

10 Points to Consider When Selecting the “Right” System Integrator for Your Implementation

By Gary Rubenstein

We used to think that evaluating and selecting the “right” enterprise system was the key to success. Well think again! After much industry consolidation, today’s options are dominated by Epicor, Infor, Lawson, Oracle, SAP, Sage, and Microsoft Dynamics solutions with a good number of Best of Breed industry-specific choices sprinkled in for consideration. The good news is that although fewer choices remain, the software products themselves offer a robust features and functions often packaged as a suite.

A Key Question – So if there are fewer alternative choices and you do a good job of matching your key requirements to the features and functions offered by the available software solutions, don’t you have a high probability of a successful implementation?

The logical response is “yes,” but experience says otherwise. In today’s market, selecting the “right” software does not guarantee a successful implementation. Why? Because with the level of sophistication of all these products, whether they be a Tier 1 or Tier 2 solution, there is a significant level of complexity to properly configure and test the solution before going live – not to mention the challenge of training existing user in the proper use of the new system. In addition, in almost all cases, putting in a new system today requires rethinking your existing business processes.

So where do you go for that guarantee, that warm and fuzzy feeling that your implementation will be successful and finish close to your budget? Much of the answer rests within the composition of your internal project team. Another key success factor is the competencies of the System Integrator that you engage to train your team and design, configure, and test the system.

How Do You Select the Right System Integrator?
Many years of experience in working with a broad scope of System Integrators has lead to the conclusion that some Integrators are better than others. This is probably not a surprise.

While none of the tips below are infallible, there are ways to lessen your chances of choosing a poor partner for implementation.

Here are 10 simple and effective guidelines to assist in selecting the “right” System Integrator for your project:

TIP #1:  Select an Experienced Implementation Team

Regardless of the name of the firm on the business card, the bottom-line is to assess the experience and skills of the specific individuals that comprise the proposed Project Team and make sure that each of the functional areas to be addressed has a functional expert assigned to the Team. The more important a functional area is to your business, the more important it is that you trust the team member responsible for this area.

It is also important to know that some of the key individual members of the System Integrators team have worked together in the past. Effective communication is a key to success and sometimes the functional consultants are recruited just for your project and may be meeting their team mates for the first time. This can be a warning of problems ahead.

Incorporate added protection by negotiating the option to change team players if one or more is jeopardizing the success of your implementation.

TIP #2:  Validate the Project Scope and Approach before Project Kick-Off

Make sure that the selected System Integrator has provided you with a detailed Statement of Work document that clearly describes the scope of work to be performed, identifies all assumptions or exclusions, delineates responsibilities, and clearly explains proposed fees.

A System Integrator that chooses to be vague is taking that approach for its own benefit, not yours. If the system integration firm refuses to provide an adequate level of detail to support the planned implementation activities, look elsewhere. This is not the time to simply trust a vendor.

TIP #3:  Look for Relevant Industry Expertise

You looked for a system that can address the unique features and functions for your industry. Make sure that the selected System Integrator brings a similar familiarity and relevant references to the project. You don’t want to encounter a situation where the assigned functional consultants do not understand the unique requirements that are mandated within your industry. The design and configuration stage of the implementation is not the time for the external implementation team to learn all the nuances of your industry.

TIP #4:  Can They Actually Do System Integration?

More often than not, you are implementing a new enterprise solution that will require integration to other in-house developed or third-party solutions. Does your System Integrator bring with it the technical resources to accomplish the required level of integration?

When a System Integrator looks to your internal team to develop the required interfaces into the new system it may be a signal to consider other options. You may be asked to participate in the integration process, but a good implementation partner will have the necessary technical resources to accomplish the required integration. They may even offer the use of less costly off-shore resources to effectively manage integration costs.

TIP #5:  Is Data Conversion Too Much to Ask?

No implementation can progress successfully without converting existing data into the new system. Both static and dynamic files require planning and mapping from legacy systems to the new database. The selected System Integrator must bring the tools and expertise to successfully convert required data files.

It is difficult to convert historical transactional data, but when it comes to routine master file data, your partner should provide you with a process to efficiently map the old formats to the new.  One of the primary causes of implementation project delays and budget overruns is the inability to convert and validate data.  Pick a System Integrator that can work with you to make data conversion as easy as possible.

TIP #6:  Can the System Integrator Introduce Business Process Improvements?

Remember that you are implementing a new system. Don’t settle for a System Integrator that supports the status quo.  A system is not just the hardware and software but also encompasses your defined organizational responsibilities and supporting business processes.  A good System Integrator will understand the best practices built into the software and possess the depth of experience to introduce alternative work flow or business process methodologies within the scope of the work being performed.

TIP #7:  Does your System Integrator Choose to Plan or Plan to React?

Look for a System Integrator that promotes a methodology that will provide a reasonable level of comfort that the project will be performed on-time and within budget.  You wouldn’t hire an a firm to build a house without blueprints, right?  Don’t hire a System Integrator that can’t describe the methodology that they will be using to build your system and bring you and your staff to a successful “Go-Live” status.

TIP #8:  Not All System Integrators are Equal, Look for Value-Add

With experience, you get System Integrators that can provide libraries of tools (programmed routines, utilities, reports, etc.) that they can utilize to simplify and streamline the implementation process. These are Value-Add features that should not go unnoticed.

Similarly, look for a System Integrator that has a strong relationship with the software solution provider. In cases where extra leverage is needed to resolve unanticipated software problems, these firms command priority status. There is tremendous value in such a relationship.

TIP #9:  Know the Cost Before You Start

Everyone knows how costly an implementation project can be. That is why we are all so intrigued when we learn of a major system disaster that resulted in huge budget overruns. Will your System Integrator mitigate your risk of being one of those stories?

Look for a System Integrator that is willing to share some of the risk by incorporating a fixed fee arrangement on portions of the project or fixed billing rates for the duration of the project assuming the project scope remains constant. Are they flexible about limiting out-of-pocket expenses? If you have a sense that the System Integrator is inflexible when it comes to pricing, this may be a signal to look elsewhere.

TIP #10:  Communication is Key!

Successful implementations are all about effective communications at a variety of internal and external levels.  The System Integrator and their functional consultants will be interfacing with your management and staff on a daily basis.  Look for a System Integrator that demonstrates their ability to communicate as evidenced by the manner in which they schedule meetings, present their Project Team and their proposal materials, and respond to open issues.