The Right Questions to Ask a System Integrator in Technology Implementations

Posted by Tom Schoen, CEO, BTM Global, Guest Blogger

Purchasing or upgrading a retail 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, ecommerce software, etc. – may provide their own system integration services or work with partners called system integrators (SIs).

A system integrator is a vetted and trusted partner of your technology provider. For example, NetSuite has several SIs they work with and from which you can choose which one best fits the skillsets you need and the cultural compatibility you want. Determining which SI best fits your organization’s needs can be critical to the success of the project.

What an SI delivers

An SI serves in both advisory and delivery roles. Depending on your organization’s size, in-house expertise and other needs, an SI can advise you on strategic technology planning, perform custom application development, implementation services, and deliver system integration and/or support. Retailers 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.

Take the example of a 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 retail 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).

Asking the Right Questions

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.
  • Do the SI team and your team have a mutual respect and collaborative approach? Don’t overlook the importance of a culture fit.
  • 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 takerâ€� culture that gives you the sense they work from a template, no matter your circumstances?
  • Does the team only have 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 are 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 about you walks out the door when they do.

Finding the right 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.

Learn about the SIs that partner with NetSuite.

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