Consultants and integrators complement each other--the key is to play to each party's strength.
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CRM deployments often require marrying an integrator's tactical approach to a consultant's strategy. Companies must sort through such complexities as who should handle each aspect of the initiative, how to get vendor-agnostic advice when selecting CRM tools and vendor expertise when implementing them, and whether it's better to use one company for consulting and integration, or separate firms for each.
The first step is acknowledging that each partner has a specific role to play. Consultants typically position themselves as long-term strategic partners, offering advice and best-practice experience as a service. Integrators come in to implement that strategy at the nuts-and-bolts level. "There are very few companies that specialize in bringing all that together in a way that will work," says Nalini Indorf Kaplan, senior vice president and global practice leader of the Customer Experience Group at MasterCard Advisors.
The challenge for the client is to bridge the distance between the strategists and the tacticians. The different approaches are pretty clear, says George Marinos, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global Risk Management Solutions unit. "Integrators are typically more focused on technology, usability, and testing-type issues," he says. "Consultancies are more focused on risk issues, business transformation, and process changes."
Janine Wilson, corporate director of customer care at General Binding Corp. (GBC), describes her partners as "operations consultants" and "integration consultants"--but the difference between the two remains distinct. "An operations consultant takes a step back and they look at your processes," says Wilson, who guided GBC's CRM initiative. "They look at what technology can be added after you've simplified [those processes]. With an operational consultant, technology ends up being an enabler instead of a solution."
By contrast, she says, "an integration consultant is saying, 'OK, this is your business need, here's the technology--put it in and move your processes around the technology.' They're really good at honing it to, 'This is what we need to do.'"
Building a Strategy
Like Wilson, many executives first look to consultants to help define their strategy and process, and look for those who can work with them over the long term to sharpen that strategy. "There is a factor of continuity," says Phil Kautzman, vice president of global alliances for CRM vendor E.piphany. "They [already] understand your business processes."
Even so, it's critical that customer executives don't pass full responsibility for the strategy to the consultants they've hired. "The client always has to be a major contributor to strategy work. It's their strategy," says Joe Parente, managing director of BearingPoint's manufacturing and technology practice. However, he says, "if you're a good advisor to your client, you're anticipating their need. You're providing in advance what they don't yet know they need."
But that may not be what every client is looking for. "The most powerful thing [a consultant] can do is not come in and say they have all the answers before they know your business, and listen before they make recommendations," Wilson says. "They clarify and confirm before they say, 'This is what you've got to do.' Consultants sometimes have a prepackaged answer and try to shoehorn that into your organization." (It's different, she says, with integration experts--sometimes it's actually preferable for them to come into the room proclaiming that they know best.)
In fact, some companies see strategy as a core competency that no outsider can supplant, and that going outside for it can be risky. "On occasion that works--but more often than not I see some real pitfalls there," says MasterCard Advisors' Indorf Kaplan. "You can get help--but you can't really outsource your business strategy."
At Bell Canada, for example, a consultant "came in and gave us some best-in-class advice here and there, but they certainly didn't 'do' our strategy," says Derek Pollitt, associate director of CRM strategy development and deployment. "We did the strategy ourselves."
Unlike an integrator's handiwork, no one is married to any consultant's advice. "If there's a firm that comes in and gives us a strategy, it may or may not work in our situation," Pollitt says. "Strategy is a lot of gray area--a constant matter of refining. Only time tells whether you're going to see the results you expected. With a systems integrator it's more black-and-white. At the end of the day, you turn the system on, and it either works or it doesn't."
Dotting the I's and Crossing the T's
Making the systems work is why integrators get the call. "They're there because that's where their skill sets are," GBC's Wilson says.
She believes implementation work calls for technical prowess. "The integration consultant oftentimes works more closely with our IT organization," she says, "[and] helps get through all the information when you're trying to work with cross-functional areas."
When dealing with the complexities of a CRM deployment, that track record can be priceless. Wilson says the requirements of a CRM deployment make it "tougher to choose an integration consultant" and that more than any other integrators "the ones that are doing [CRM] integration have to have a proven track record.
"CRM is much more complex. You're dealing with multiple channels to your customers and consumers, [and] you've got to touch every single functional area within a company," Wilson says. "The rubber meets the road at implementation. When you're going to implement a tool, it's crucial that you've got someone who's been there and done it--and it's not just theory. If you have someone who's done it and lived it, that's more powerful than someone who has the theoretical background."
But Wilson says the task-oriented nature of the integrator's role can be self-limiting. "They're brought in to integrate the package or tool or suite that they're experts at," she says, adding that once you're ready to move on to another area, "you wouldn't usually use that same [integrator]." A consultant, by contrast, "can move around," she says.
Going for Best-of-Breed Services
Some organizations prefer to limit integrators and consultants to their singular focus areas. "You may not get the best of either of them if you use the same [organization] for both. It's better to use different ones," Wilson says.
Wilson says she learned her lesson the hard way. GBC had a consultant it was familiar with, and engaged the firm to redefine GBC's entire inventory management system. The problem arose when GBC decided to keep the same company on to complete the project. "It didn't work as effectively," she says. "Those individuals had never implemented that tool before. They knew our business, but not the idiosyncrasies of that tool."
Bell Canada's consultants "don't have that detailed level of knowledge of our systems, but we didn't necessarily need them for that," Pollitt says. "The standard CRM consultant can often take a look at your business and go away and come back [with an answer]." The level of interaction with a consultant "doesn't have to be as intense as with your system integrator," he says. There, he says, "it can be quite intense: a lot of decisions that have to be made in a very short period of time."
By contrast, Pollitt says, "the integrators themselves can come in and provide a lot of value with a little bit of strategy, but their strength is in implementation."
In fact, integration experts are often wholly focused on making the project work, not questioning the plan. "When it comes down to the business strategy, [integrators] just say, 'If that's your strategy, let's do it.'" Pollitt says he deals with those integrators on the same level: "Once we give a statement of work, it's just, 'Get the job done.'"
But that doesn't mean the relationship is hands-off. "It's more effort, actually," Pollitt says. "We are very heavily engaged, where we've even colocated with system integrators, [so] they can reach us very quickly if they have issues or concerns."
Even Brad Hiquet, vice president of consulting and delivery in North America for itelligence, a Cincinnati-based consulting firm specializing in SAP deployments, admits that specialization has its place. "We [occasionally] partner with integrators, because they bring a special skill set," he says. "We couldn't get to that level of knowledge."
Splitting the bill also means spreading the risk of failure. "Your integrator can fail where the consultant succeeded," Pollitt says.
Conversely, says E.piphany's Kautzman, "if you don't know the strategy, [the implementation] might not match what you're trying to do," even if the implementation succeeds on its own terms.
Finding One Partner for Two Tasks
Minimizing risk is one reason some organizations prefer using one company that offers both consulting and integration services.
With more than one player at the table, Hiquet says, "if a problem starts to exist, there's finger-pointing." With a single contractor, "there's just one throat to choke."
MasterCard Advisors' Indorf Kaplan cautions against too many handoffs during a project. "It doesn't always make sense to have a multitude of firms in to work on the same thing unless there's a clear project manager," she says. "It's to the client's disadvantage to have competition and discord among parties."
Perhaps with that in mind, some outfits pride themselves on being one-stop shops: IBM Global Consulting, Accenture, BearingPoint, Cap Gemini, and Deloitte, to name just a few. "Those will do everything," Kautzman says. "They'll do the strategy work, they'll help you build out--doing it end-to-end, ideally." But even Kautzman admits that's a route reserved for the rare journey. More often, he says, "the strategy and implementation are generally two separate components."
There are times when a one-stop shop makes sense. Hiquet says companies are most likely to defer to a single provider "when doing the CRM implementation in conjunction with an ERP implementation.... It depends on how [much] of the potential CRM capability you're looking to implement."
BearingPoint's Parente agrees that consulting is "generally more business-process focused," but he thinks it's natural that a consulting engagement often leads to systems integration work. In his opinion the extent of any consultant's contribution--"from strategy down to deployment and maintenance"--should be determined solely by the client's needs.
Wilson acknowledges that there is a benefit to using one company for consulting and integration--at least in theory. "It takes a whole lot of time for [consultants] to learn and understand your organization and the workings of your company--the right players, the correct information, how you're organized and go to market," she says. "It takes time to navigate that maze. If you can find an operations consultant who can move to the integration
consultant [role], you don't have to explain that all again."
Pollitt says his company doesn't rely on any one source for all its CRM needs, but acknowledges that such an approach is still viable. "Within our overall CRM strategy...we'll ask for people's opinions, but if we don't feel comfortable about it we'll go a different way," Pollitt says. "Ultimately the decision is ours."
Neutrality Versus Expertise
Although using one company for both consulting and integration can simplify certain aspects of implementing CRM, some companies still prefer to use two firms. These companies want to ensure that if they're looking for help in selecting a vendor, their consultant is vendor-agnostic; but that once they select a vendor, their integrator has expertise with that chosen vendor.
"There's a perception that different software firms are going to partner with different consulting firms," Pollitt says. "There's always the risk that we're being lied to." That requires a little bit of skepticism, he says, "but a little bit of skepticism is a healthy thing. It makes sure we're focusing on what we need to, and it keeps things in check. If I were to just put my faith in everything a consulting firm told me, I may not think I'm doing a good job."
Bias is just something that needs to be addressed and dealt with straight on, people on both sides of the equation say. The key is awareness--knowing about a consultancy's partnerships and agreements beforehand allows the client to weigh the recommendations in the proper light.
One way to assure an unbiased opinion, according to Indorf Kaplan, is to "ask a company that doesn't have a particular vested interest," such as commissions from subsequent software sales. Parente says his firm goes to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. "Pretty much every hardware provider out there, we have a relationship with," he says. "So we have an equal amount to gain or lose" with each recommendation. "We try to keep equal relationships with [all the suppliers]."
Independence isn't necessarily a prerequisite for effectiveness, according to itelligence's Hiquet. Itelligence acts not just as a consultant, but also often as a developer of the software it resells on behalf of SAP. Hiquet says his firm's specialized knowledge of SAP offers clients a benefit that pure-play consultants can't match.
"Every consultant firm is going to tell you a different story," Pollitt says. "You may have Consulting Firm X coming to the table with [one vendor], and Consulting Firm Y coming to the table with someone else. We can listen to everyone, but ultimately we have to listen to ourselves and do what's best for our customers."
Pollitt says what's important is recognizing that the consultant and the integrator complement each other. The key is to play to each party's strength. "As long as we provide the proper scope and the parameters of the engagement are laid out for each of them," he says, both sides of the divide will be successful.
Contact Articles Editor Joshua Weinberger at joshw@destinationCRM.com
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