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Author's profile photo Mark Jordan

Picking a Systems Integrator for Digital Transformation

The global economic challenges that many wholesale distributors are facing today reveals without doubt the need for digital business transformation in the industry.  Many distributors have been putting this off for a long time.  Now that the business imperative is glaring, it can present a challenge to distributors who may not be used to big IT projects or for those that are, ensuring the success of the next steps on their technical roadmap.   Picking the right systems integrator (SI) is a considerable factor in the success of your projects.  Not picking the right SI can lead to wasting time, money, and opportunity that distributors can ill afford.

So, what should a distributor look for in an SI?  At a high-level, distributors need an SI that has the technological, business, and industry expertise needed to help guide them through the digital transformation process.    Companies embarking on an arduous journey of implementing highly integrated systems like an ERP, business planning, or eCommerce platform can ensure project success by picking an SI that can provide the highest levels of expertise in these areas.


With the absence of widely adopted business and technical standards for the system integrator industry, what really makes one systems integrator stand out from the others and how do you get an accurate assessment of an SI?


Technology Expertise

 It is important to match the technical sophistication level of the system integrator with the complexity of the project.  Because of the complexity of different systems and the breakneck speed with which solution providers are introducing new products, an SI will need to be up to speed on the latest systems they are connecting and how to integrate components of the system into your legacy systems.  Look for an SI that can outline how they will execute all the stages of the installation and any experience they have in each of the steps. If the system integrator relies on subcontractors, review the systems deployed to monitor and control workflow, and if the integrator offers to tackle issues outside of the company’s business expertise, be cautious.

The most important takeaway is to be suspicious of over-promises and hire an SI that has a track record of handling all aspects of your project.  System integration work is always more complicated than one might think, so a proven track record and references from the projects they have done are essential.  Some system integrators offer a full spectrum of services, while others concentrate on a specific service or industry. Be sure to test all assumptions to make sure you are getting what you are paying for.


In-depth Industry Knowledge

 An SI who has implementation experience in the same or similar industry can understand a company’s business processes quickly and promptly deliver relevant direction and address specific pain points from experience in your industry.  Technology evolution is happening at a very fast pace and an SI may make claims on their innovation capabilities. Test this by asking about their innovation process that they will be implementing for you, along with where and how successfully this was implemented previously.  In addition to reliability and professional capabilities, choose an integrator you feel comfortable with, who understands your process needs and has experience in the industry. The integrator also needs to have a staff with expertise and domain knowledge in your business area, so ask to interview the people that will be working on your project.


Business Management Capabilities

 When embarking on a digital transformation project, effective program management is vital. Without it, your efforts will be at risk of becoming a series of siloed projects that are neither joined up nor integrated with the rest of the enterprise. Balancing resources, strategic priorities, and other elements of transformation will suffer without strong program management.

It is imperative that your selected SI provides you with a detailed project plan, with decision points, contingency plans, and staffing that will meet your timeline and project goals.  Building solid project requirements is a crucial task that requires the cooperation of the customer and the systems integrator.  To ensure success, the distributor must be involved in the planning, detailed layout, and maintenance requirements as much as possible. Select an SI that provides you with a detailed project proposal. Avoid vague or short proposals that do not reflect your detailed project requirements so you will know what will be handled in the project specifically. If the requirements and proposal terms are properly defined from the beginning, the result will be a project with no or minimal change orders.  Change management is also a very important factor in a successful project.  Make sure the SI has a solid and proven methodology for managing the solutions that result from your project.

A successful digital transformation project must be driven by the current and future business needs of the distributor. The market is demanding new business models and new go-to-market frameworks. Look for an SI that can have a broad perspective on the market dynamics and trends for your industry. Technology expertise is very important, but it is equally important to consider an integrator’s business and commercial qualifications. Digital transformation is about new ways of doing business, which technology enables, but the right SI will also help distributors to avoid your digital business transformation becoming only a technology project.



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