When I was in the UK last week, I availed myself of the opportunity to catch-up with some friends in the industry. There were both product and delivery people in the crowd and we had a good time.
At some point, we hit the topic of Partners delivering software and how organizations should go about the process. We agreed on the right ways to use Partners and promptly celebrated with another round. As a rule of thumb, when that crowd agrees as a group, it is usually accepted knowledge. Even so, we all could readily recall multiple stories of people doing it poorly.
Software is Secondary
Working at Alfresco, this may seem like crazy talk, but bear with me a moment. The software you choose has to clear a certain hurdle in functionality to meet your requirements. There are many times Alfresco wins a deal where another product could also have met the requirements and vice versa. There are also situations where Alfresco isn’t a fit.
This is true with every software vendor.
For the first project, assuming you pick a vendor that doesn’t significantly mislead you, success isn’t going to be defined by the product you select. Success is going to be defined by the Partner you pick when you start that first project.
Implementation Partner is Critical
Picking the right Partner is critical. You can have the best software in the world but if the implementation is done poorly, the project will fail. What should you look for in a Partner?
- Domain Expertise: Do they understand the business problem that I am trying to solve? You don’t buy Alfresco simply to address Content Management. You buy it to store your Insurance content or manage your Correspondence process. Make sure that the needed domain expertise will be on the team.
- Project Managers: A good project manager is mission critical. They don’t need experience with the specific technology or industry, but the product domain is critical. If I need a project manager for an Alfresco product, someone who has successfully managed Documentum or SharePoint projects will likely do well.
- Product Expertise: There has to be strong technical expertise in the product. New people are okay, but depending on the size of the effort, there needs to be at least one full-time expert directing all technical efforts. This one is obvious but I’ve seen it overlooked.
- Meet the Team: If you can’t meet the individuals that will make-up the delivery team before signing, don’t do it. Bait-and-Switch is common in the industry. The partners that I routinely work with don’t do this.
- References: Check them. This is even more important for the Partner than the software company. The most important question is this: Will you use them again? Learn the details behind the answer, but the answer is critical.
Now that we know what to look for, when do you pick your Partner?
Choose Everything Together
The best piece of advice is this, pick the vendor and the Partner together. If you have a vendor coming to you saying that their product is the best, don’t spend a dime until you have a Partner to do the work. I’ve seen too much software gathering dust while a Partner was being selected.
In fact, ask the vendor to recommend a good Partner. It will help you gain a better understanding of the vendor’s Partner ecosystem. If they have trouble finding a good Partner, then that may be a sign of a weak ecosystem which could bode ill for the long-term.
Finally, I don’t care how “GOOD” your internal IT team is. For the first project, get experienced experts to do the work. You can, and should, hire someone, but you are better off with a Partner on that first project. You can hold them accountable for the result and there is a greater chance that a core mistake won’t be made that will haunt you for the life of the installation.