As a life-long Cleveland sports fan, I’ve come to appreciate first-hand the difficulty of assembling a winning team, let alone a championship caliber team. The Cavaliers finally solved the riddle in 2016, and for the second year in a row, it looks like the Indians are poised to solve it as well. Time will soon tell (we won’t mention the Browns, who seem to define earning yet another first-round draft pick as “winning”).
When it comes to implementing SAP or Oracle, putting together a winning team can seem just as challenging. It’s no secret that ERP-based, transformational business initiatives are complex undertakings that are prone to delays, blown budgets, and/or outright failure.
So, to help mitigate these risks, you need to ensure not only that your Systems Integrator (SI) brings a comprehensive set of tools, techniques, and talent to the table, but also that their assumptions regarding what your company “owns” during the course of the project are realistic. Finding the right balance can be a daunting process, which is probably why many companies either overlook or simply avoid a potentially beneficial strategy when staffing their projects: the use of third-party firms that specialize in particular ERP-related disciplines.
All things being equal, having additional implementation partners in the mix does increase the risk profile of the program simply because you have more to manage; however, given the right circumstances the benefits can outweigh the risks.
Think about it like managing a baseball team. Would you rather have nine talented, versatile, athletes take the field, or eight talented, versatile, athletes with an ace on the mound? Similarly, using specialist firms, or “boutiques”, as part of your ERP program may just give you the edge you need to be successful.
Here are a few cases where bringing in a specialist could be a difference-maker:
- Deep industry knowledge and/or business process expertise may not be readily available from your SI
Without a doubt, large SIs like Accenture and Deloitte have big, diverse talent pools and can theoretically bring those resources to bear on your project. That being said, the best, most experienced resources might not be available when and where your project needs them. Moreover, if your program is dealing with a core competency of your business, it might make sense to seek out firms that specialize in your industry or line of business to ensure that you are getting the biggest bang for your buck. And even if you opt to stick with your primary SI, simply having a different perspective at the bargaining table is never a bad thing.
- Complex, fragmented legacy systems increase uncertainty
If your “as is” application landscape resembles a bowl of spaghetti, the associated effort for both data migration and change management increase dramatically. Data migration is an aspect of ERP implementations that seems to be consistently underestimated anyway, and a complex legacy landscape only exacerbates the problem.
So leveraging firms that specialize in data migration and training may not only give you more realistic estimates up front, but also put you in a better position to react to the inevitable surprises and issues that are lurking in your legacy environment down the road. Simply put, these specialists have made a career of working with data, where a stint on the “data team” is virtually a rite of passage at a company like PwC or IBM. Or to follow the pitcher analogy, although the SI will bring you someone with a great fastball, the specialist will probably have a curve ball and a slider in his arsenal, too.
- Internal resource constraints lead to delays, which lead to change orders
Firms that focus on specific areas of an ERP program typically take on more of the responsibility for the outcome – which can be important if your organization is resource-constrained. This not only reduces the burden on your organization to fill key roles on the project, but also decreases the likelihood of downstream change orders. Why? Because any staffing delays that are your fault will become a change order from the provider.
Conversely, if they take on more of the responsibility to begin with, then they are going to be highly motivated to prevent any staffing-related snafus. That’s not to say that the big SIs won’t do more if you ask them, but specialist firms tend to be more proactive and accommodating in this regard.
Look Before You Leap
Clearly, there are downsides to bringing in third-party providers for parts of ERP programs that the large SIs typically staff and manage, and they should not be taken lightly:
- Increased management overhead
- Potential for finger-pointing and conflicts
- Less flexibility to move resources between teams
However, if you take a disciplined, proactive approach that ensures a common understanding of responsibilities and assumptions up front, you can realize a tremendous amount of value by putting together a team that brings the right skills to the table.
And who knows, you might even win the World Series. (Go Tribe!)!