How to Match a Systems Integrator to Your Company's Needs

Updated: February 05, 2008


Choosing the right systems integrator is one of the most important parts of any IT project. How well a project works outs depends directly on how well it is implemented by the systems integrator. Given the interdependent nature of IT assets, the outcome of any new project is likely to reverberate through multiple other systems or even the entire IT infrastructure. The right systems integrator makes a critical difference.

Unfortunately, it's increasingly difficult and complicated to select a systems integrator who fits your company and project's needs. There has been an explosion of firms calling themselves "systems integrators" in recent years. Some are manufacturers of hardware and/or software pushing a specific solution with minor customization. Others are upstarts who may lack the industry or application experience that you need. Still others are very large global firms that may not devote the time and expertise that a small business or project needs.

To help you find a systems integrator that's the perfect match for your company and project, here is a checklist of points to consider during the selection process.


1. Size matters. A systems integrator whose business volume is roughly comparable to yours is often a good choice. Very large systems integrators may not care enough to devote extra resources to a small project, and their follow-up may not be all that you need. Choose a systems integrator big enough to not be overwhelmed by your requirements but small enough to be excited about working with a customer of your size.

2. Seek perfectionists. Ask prospects to describe a difficult project and how they saw it through to completion. Call that reference. You don't want a systems integrator who compromises when the going gets tough.

3. Pay attention to details. Look for a systems integrator with a well-defined methodology — in other words, someone who knows what they're doing. A systems integrator should be able to describe how they will work their way through the project step by step, from start to finish.

4. Check the systems integrator's technology alliances. What vendors are they affiliated with? What are their certifications? Do they offer only one vendor's hardware or software solution, or can they choose from multiple options to find the combination that's right for you?

5. Look for expertise in your industry. This tip is one of the biggest time and money savers when selecting a systems integrator. The lowest-priced prospect is often the one who's looking to break into a new industry. Be aware that what you save on the front end will be repaid in free lessons for the systems integrator's staff during your project.

6. Document who is going to do what. During the selection process, discuss even post-implementation matters such as ongoing support and service.

7. Ask questions. At some point in the selection process, you will want to ask some rather pointed questions that will give you an idea of what it will be like to work with a given systems integrator. For example:

  • Of the top 10 projects that the systems integrator has completed in the past 12 months, what was the percentage difference between the original bids and the final cost paid by clients? This question will help you identify lowball bidders who make their profits off of change orders once they have a foot in the door.
  • Is the profitability of this project lower than the systems integrator's average profitability on projects completed over the past 12 months? An affirmative answer means you are a good negotiator. It may also mean that your project will see less attention or more cost overruns. Everyone profits fairly in a good deal.
  • What is the attrition rate in the group that will be assigned to your project? Turnover is inevitable, but if it's too high that should raise a red flag.
  • Ask the systems integrator to discuss one failed project that occurred in the past 12 months. If they consider every project an unqualified success, you may wonder how realistic they are. If the blame for failure rests solely with the client, you should hear some warning bells.
  • What are the systems integrator's strengths and weaknesses compared to the competition? A systems integrator who says they have no competition or weaknesses is unrealistic.
  • Aside from money, what does the systems integrator hope to gain by undertaking your project? This information gives you a bit more leverage over the relationship. They may be looking for a beachhead in your industry; if they make you very happy, you may agree to be reference account. They may be looking to learn more about your business processes. Whatever they're looking for in the relationship, you can get more of what you're looking for by providing it.

The Bottom Line

These are just a few of many issues that must be considered during the selection of a systems integrator — but they tend to get overlooked. By paying attention to them, you're more likely to get a systems integrator who matches both your project and your company.

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