The Role of a System Integrator in your Technology Implementation
Purchasing or upgrading a significant technology application or system requires a web of logistics, to put it mildly. You may be working with several different vendors, and all require tight coordination to ensure your project proceeds steadily onward.
Technology providers – the vendor who sells you a merchandising system, ERP, eCommerce software, etc. – may provide their own system integration services or they may work with partners called system integrators (SIs).
The definition of a system integrator is that they are a vetted and trusted partner of your technology provider. For example, NetSuite has several SIs (called “NetSuite Alliance Partners”) with which they partner. NetSuite clients choose which partner best fits the skillsets needed and the cultural compatibility desired.
Likewise, Oracle Retail’s system integration partners can manage a project from beginning to end, and have a close relationship with Oracle Retail (depending on the nature of your project, the Oracle team will still be involved to some degree).
Retailers, manufacturers, and other businesses choose to partner with SIs on projects large and small; a good SI will tailor its services around the size and needs of your organization. Determining which SI best fits your organization’s needs is critical to the success of your project.
What a System Integrator Delivers
An SI serves in both advisory and delivery roles.
Project advisor: An SI knows your industry, understands customer expectations and regulations, and has kept up with the latest solutions and features. They live and breathe projects like yours, and therefore bring deep knowledge of best practices and experience from a variety of retailers. Your SI has a pulse on the industry, and knows what works and what doesn’t.
Project delivery: The overall management and execution of your project is the project delivery aspect, which can also include managing contractors and subcontractors. Project delivery ensures that the technology solution helps an organization meet its larger business objectives and goals.
Depending on your organization’s size, in-house expertise and other needs, an SI can also advise you on strategic technology planning, perform custom application development, implementation services, and deliver system integration and/or support.
Take the example of a NetSuite SuiteCommerce implementation. A system integrator will provide the implementation and integration services and, if needed, custom development. Implementations may require several vendors and partners, and an SI can facilitate the coordination of all of the third-party actors, increasing the efficiency of the project and freeing up your team to work on mission-critical tasks rather than coordinating work efforts and tracking timelines.
Beyond skills, an SI’s perspective is especially valuable in the current economic environment. With regulations changing, technology constantly evolving, and customer demands driving a fast rate of change, you cannot be (nor should you have to be) an expert on every detail of your IT systems. That’s where your SI comes in; they can be the experts on best practices, regulatory compliance, and ensuring that you are set up for long-term success (not just short-term gain).
The Top 5 Questions to Ask your System Integrator
It’s tempting to think of an SI as providing a commodity in a sense; that any one has the same expertise and delivers its services in the same way. Not so.
There are stark differences in processes, expertise and the service of the teams you consider. Some key questions to ask:
- Do they think strategically about your project and ask a lot of questions? Having a proactive approach will help them catch potential challenges or obstacles early on – maybe before you even realize them – and solve them faster.
- Does the SI look at your business holistically and understand how the project will impact other areas, even beyond the stated scope? Or does the team have an “order taker” culture that gives you the sense they work from a template, no matter your circumstances?
- Does the team have narrow tech backgrounds, or do they come from diverse areas like product development, performance engineering, or even merchandising and store operations? Expertise in the technology and application stacks you’re using is essential. But expertise doesn’t just come from doing the same type of project over and over; it’s about the team’s diversity and creativity. Diverse experiences will give them a deeper understanding of your entire business, its needs and objectives.
- How has the SI handled challenges and surprises? If an SI team has experience with many types of technologies, they’re more likely to deliver out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving possibilities.
- Is the team is made up of employees or primarily contractors? Employees will provide long-term stability over the life-cycle of your partnership with the SI. Contractors will come and go throughout the project, and any knowledge they have walks out the door when they do.
Evaluating a Culture Fit is Important
A culture fit with your SI is incredibly important, and not something you can easily deduce from an RFP. Meet the SI team – in their own office, if possible – and evaluate your interactions with them. Do the SI team and your team have a mutual respect and collaborative approach? Does the SI look at your business holistically and understand how the project will impact other areas, even beyond the stated scope? Or do you get a sense that they work from a strict approach or template?
Your In-House IT team is Still Essential!
Some companies still view the IT team as a cost center; the people who run the network, the servers and the data center. While your technology project should be driven by the business side, it’s extremely important to bring the IT side into the fold as a partner. As an essential member of the project team, IT can better prepare your organization before the project kicks off with the SI, saving you a lot of time (and budget).
Finding the Right SI Partner
You put a huge effort into choosing the right technology for your organization and an equal effort is required to find the right integration partner to bring it to fruition. With an understanding of what an SI does and by asking the right questions, you can uncover the differences among your potential partners and chose the one that best fits your goals and culture.