Picking the Right System Integrator

September, 2010

With the increasing use of commercial software in the application portfolio, IT organizations must develop and refine their skills in evaluating providers of such systems. Although much has been written on the subject of software vendor selection, most of the emphasis has been on the evaluation of the software provider. But to ensure project success, there is another party–in many respects even more important than the software vendor; namely, the system integration or implementation consulting firm.

This Research Byte is an extract from our special report, How to Evaluate a System Integrator, which describes the role typically played by system integration firms in enterprise system implementation. It then outlines proposed criteria for evaluating system integration or software implementation consulting firms. The criteria are presented in the form of an interview questionnaire for easy use in interviewing or reference-checking candidate firms. The report concludes with recommendations for effectively managing the roles and relationship of system integration firms in enterprise system projects.

The Evolving Role of System Integrators
The term system integration is a general term that describes the bringing together of the component subsystems into a single integrated system. For example, a factory data collection system might comprise handheld RF or barcode scanning devices, docking stations, wireless access points, local servers in each facility, and a central transaction processing system that handles interfaces to inventory control, payroll, accounting, production scheduling, and other systems. Because no single vendor or developer of each of these subsystems or system components has responsibility for the entire system, a third-party system integration firm is frequently hired to oversee deployment of the entire system. The customer’s IT organization could play the role of system integrator, but because it often requires specialized skills and knowledge of the various system components, an outside contractor is often the better choice.

Even when a new system comprises a single system component, a system integrator is often retained to oversee the implementation. This is often the case with complex enterprise systems such as ERP, CRM, or supply chain management. Even though there may be little true “system integration” work, a third-party firm is often needed to manage complex and interrelated activities, such as data conversion, system configuration, prototyping, acceptance testing, and other implementation tasks. In this case, the vendor of the system may serve directly as the implementation firm, or a business partner may fill this role. For larger customers, major consulting firms such as IBM Global Services, Accenture, CSC, Deloitte Consulting, and Hewlett-Packard often play this role. For small and midsize customers, there are many local and regional players in this market.

A further complication is that system integrators, or implementation consulting firms, often take a direct role as resellers or value-added resellers (VARs) in representing commercial software vendors. In this scenario, the buyer may have little direct dealings with the commercial software vendor, except in software license agreements. As shown in Figure 1, the system integrator may be responsible for presales demonstrations and may bundle sales of hardware or complementary products along with sale of the vendor’s product. In addition to its implementation consulting role, the system integration firm may provide first- or even second-level technical support and may be called upon to provide ongoing support, such as application of software patches or upgrades to newer versions. 

SYS Fig1 - Picking the Right System Integrator

Criteria for Evaluation
Selection of the right system integration firm, therefore, is a key element of success of complex implementation projects. How to Evaluate a System Integrator describes options for evaluating systems integrators prior to selection of software as well as after the software is chosen.

As shown in Figure 2, the full report also provides a detailed list of questions that can be used to evaluate system integration firms at four levels: (1) general qualifications, (2) project-specific qualifications, (3) key resource qualifications, and (4) reference checks. 

SYS Fig2 - Picking the Right System Integrator

Evaluation of system integrators and implementation consulting firms has become a key step in the success of enterprise IT projects. The full report provides a starting point for questions to ask in carrying out this important activity. 

This Research Byte is a brief overview of our report on this subject, How to Evaluate a System Integrator. The full report is available at no charge for Computer Economics clients, or it may be purchased by non-clients directly from our website (click for pricing).