In Choosing the Ideal EPM Implementation Partner, Part 1 , I discussed the three components for an effective enterprise performance management capability: the process state of your company, technological capabilities, and your implementation partner. Today, let's dig into the 8 essential qualities to look for in an implementation partner to best assist your internal team in achieving your objectives.
1. Training Everyone claims they know the product, but you need to ferret out how well they really know their stuff. Do they have a rigorous program of working with the vendor’s training programs (or better yet, did many of their staff come from the vendor)? Do they have a comprehensive internal training program, and a skills matrix or similar device to ensure all employees are trained on all aspects of the latest versions in a timely manner? For many smaller companies, even affording to send one consultant to training is a hardship. Ask to see samples of the content provided to consultants, the mechanism of delivery and how often it is updated. Ask the technology vendor for feedback on how seriously the partner approaches training. When interviewing consultants, probe for consistent answers about the training they have received. Training tends to be a consistent cultural mandate in better firms.
2. Investing in Innovation Suitable partner firms will have evidence of investments in vertical and functional solutions readily available, whether in the form of in-house developed intellectual property or a cultural orientation that indicates they’re in this market for a long haul. Be suspicious of companies that have no real collateral of their own that demonstrates what they bring to the ecosystem. Go beyond brochures and websites, and ask if they have formal deliverables available. Examples are solutions they have built to benefit customers as accelerators, or add-ons and utilities that will help you eke more value out of your investment. If the list is suspiciously short, or if they are regurgitating solutions built by the vendor, then their investment is likely shallow. Better firms routinely make investments not only to benefit their clients, but to standardize around best practices and increase the efficiency and consistency of their delivery teams.
3. Thought Leadership How willing is this company to share their viewpoints about the technology they claim to have the skills to implement? If they hold relatively few information-sharing events, they may not have any content, or may be deliberately avoiding scrutiny of their content. This telegraphs a lack of competence and priority of contributing to the space. A services company that routinely takes the time to devise best practices, produce content to share these ideas, and makes those ideas publicly accessible is a company that has the discipline and priority to harmonize their stance on selected topics. Customers will experience more consistent and effective solutions as a result. Without this kind of collaboration and alignment, results may vary from consultant to consultant. Of course, if you are selecting between two partners who are both willing to share their information, you'll need to evaluate the quality and relevancy for both parties. Companies with very little content in the public domain that discusses their thoughts on the market are going to be followers and may be seeking to engage on an opportunistic basis.
4. Presence This is a simple qualification to validate. Does the firm have consultants in the place(s) you do business, with local experts to save you travel expenses and reduce response lags? If they’re offshore, or even time zones away, it can greatly reduce efficiency during implementations. Ask for organization charts to see how systemic consistency is fostered. It's great if the partner has a presence in your two key countries, but are they set up organizationally to be aligned? Does one resource report to a different team and might they have a conflicting agenda, or different training standards or best practices? Having the capability to staff projects in multiple regions is an asset in engaging a remote user community, knowing someone can be dispatched to assist on a local basis. If the team is concentrated in one geographic location, be prepared to pay a premium to leverage those resources.
5. Resource Bandwidth Most partner firms will bid on projects representing a multiple of their capacity. Smaller firms are at greater risk of not being able to deliver adequately if too many projects come in, or one runs long. A larger firm with more resources can take such anomalies in stride. Be sure to ask the partner how they run their business and what utilization rate they have recently experienced and what rate is their target to staff up to? At rates even remotely approaching 100%, the firm is not maintaining a healthy resource buffer to handle contingencies—offering little real choice of skill sets or ability to match resources with relevant industry and technology skills. The closer you get to 100% utilization…the higher the odds of being staffed with first-available rather than most-effective resources.
6. Delivery Methodology Off-the-shelf methodologies are commonplace, but may overlook how the partners have adapted the process to fit best practices. For example, SAP ERP has been implemented with SAP’s “ASAP” methodology for years, so you might take comfort in hearing that's the recommended methodology for your EPM project—but there are differences between what works for an ERP implementation vs. an EPM implementation. If a partner can discuss the differences, and show customized artifacts to consistently assure the outcomes, you know you are dealing with a reputable firm.
7. QA Methodology There's no substitute for a “second set of eyes.” Does the firm have some kind of quality control mechanism that checks the work product of their consultants against best practices at various points? Is this oversight function done by other consultants or managers or by a defined group with special skills, and how often? How do you know someone familiar with the best practices will be involved? Done improperly, the bandwidth risks can also take its toll on this process. You should spend some time not only identifying the resource(s) who perform QA steps, but the process they follow to identify potential shortcomings and then remedy them. No QA oversight role is poor, a QA process that can be followed by another consultant is better, and a defined QA group with preplanned involvement in projects leveraging a defined methodology to conduct reviews is best.
8. Customer References Finally, every partner firm can produce references easily to say good things, but you need to dig a little deeper. Questions should include:
- How do you really know what they delivered is of good quality?
- Were they able to deliver every capability of the technology you felt you were sold? If not, what wasn’t delivered and why?
- Have you compared the functionality of your system in any informal discussions with other customers?
- Have you participated in a survey or benchmarking test to confirm your solution is working up benchmark statistics from your industry, functionality, and level of complexity?
- Is it possible the solution is working well based solely on their limited experience and what they were led to believe from SAP and implementation partners? Could it also be that significant value is within reach but not achieved because of their constrained perspective?