Integrator Vetting Survey: 10 Questions to Ask a New Business-Technology Integrator to Ensure their Success, and Yours
A business-technology integrator’s level of expertise and capabilities are often unknown quantities until you’ve had a chance to work with them closely on a project. All too often, they struggle to deliver what they said they could and then you end up with an even worse problem than you started with – or you spend a great deal of money and realize you’re not getting what you expected from it.
“You’d be surprised at how many enterprises tolerate companies who consistently fall short of delivering on their commitments,” said Brian Freeman, National Sales Manager of Prime Communications Inc. (PCI). “Things fall through the cracks due to a lack of process and there’s no way to know what’s going on until you have to deal with those problems on top of the technology needs you had in the first place.”
Freeman said such problems often don’t appear until a company grows beyond the expertise of its integrator. “We’ve worked with customers who are multi-billion dollar organizations who get treated poorly by their integrators,” Freeman explained. “They submit service tickets and don’t receive a response; the account team struggles with communication; they sometimes get stuck with technology that can’t be upgraded without a complete replacement due to proprietary restrictions. It’s a problem. The challenge is finding that integrator who is nimble, knowledgeable and passionate about their commitment to service their customer’s needs.”
How can you ensure your company isn’t taking on an integrator problem?
Freeman suggests that surviving the dangerous road to a trusted integrator comes down to one thing: asking enough questions before a relationship gets started to verify the integrator’s expertise.
“To begin with, the integrator needs to be very responsive in any contact they have with you. Don’t settle for ‘just enough.’ Choose an integrator that demonstrates thorough, clear, and proactive communication always – even during the vetting process,” Freeman said. “Before you hire someone, ask very direct questions, then evaluate the team based on their answers and their ability to verify their claims.”
The survey below can be used to prescreen integrators and determine whether it’s worth the risk to hire them.
Integrator Vetting Survey
1. What is your approach to solving problems?
An experienced, agile technology integrator won’t simply ask “What would you like to do?” The integrator’s project team will provide a “value-add” when it comes to solving problems. The team should approach your technology challenges as a consulting partner, first and foremost taking time to deeply understand the challenge and need. A good technology integrator will begin by asking “What are you trying to accomplish and why?” Then, the integrator should be able to draw upon solutions they have deployed for other clients to formulate a customized solution. Ask your integrator candidate to describe past solutions in detail. Even if they can’t name their customers for reasons of confidentiality, they should be able to walk you through the steps they followed to understand the problem in depth and find a solution.
2. How does your work support our evolving needs?
“A good integrator puts open-architecture hardware and software platforms in front of you that take into account future needs,” Freeman said. “Just solving for the problem of the moment isn’t typically the best approach you have to consider how it fits into the long term plan.” It comes down to taking advantage of tech advancements without stranding capital, he explained. On the part of the integrator, this requires learning exactly who the customer is, understanding their business culture and model, and putting together a custom system with enough depth and flexibility to support the company’s specific technology needs well into the future.
3. What questions do you have for us?
A business technology integrator with an appropriate depth of experience will have many questions about your business culture and goals. They may even ask questions that at first do not seem to be related to the need at hand. They will dig deep to see potential problems over time and demonstrate a willingness to think outside the box to create genuinely seamless solutions. They won’t be willing to give you a solution immediately or simply ask what’s keeping you up at night. After asking questions they will evaluate and then propose the best solution that fits the goals of your organization.
4. How did your company begin?
This question is designed to help you understand the foundation of the integrator team and its experience. Tyler Graham, Senior Systems Engineer for PCI said it’s important to choose an integrator with strong IT roots. “Many integrators started with experience in security, for example, and only recently moved into the world of IT because so much about security has to do with networking now.” He suggests asking integrator candidates hard questions anchored in IT best practices. If they can’t give you detailed, insightful answers that get to the bottom of the problem, they may not know enough to handle your complex issues.
5. Can you provide remote service?
According to Freeman, the need for high-level remote service is based both in cost effectiveness and responsiveness. “We’ve taken over some accounts where the previous integrator was not capable of remotely commissioning, troubleshooting and organizing a project. When needed, they would roll a truck and begin assessing the problem once on-site, with IP based solutions there are more efficient ways to address problems” he explained. He said strategic sourcing personnel wouldn’t even have known to ask about remote services in the past. Now, this type of service is critical to save money and solve problems as soon as possible, especially in industries where downtime is very expensive. Keep in mind that service can be set up incorrectly, and this is an area where business integrators can fall short if they don’t have enough experience. Freeman suggests looking for nuanced answers that indicate deep expertise.
6. What will you do to ensure the security of our systems?
An integrator that is less than suitably prepared to handle your IT solutions will not be able to speak to IP-based security, including demonstrating an understanding of the architecture behind such solutions. Again, any answer to this question should show a sensitivity to your unique company culture and objectives. This may be one of the most important questions you can ask a potential new business-technology integrator, because simple things, such as excessive sets of passwords and logins, can expose an organization to breaches of data.
7. How are your relationships with vendors and manufacturers?
Business-technology integration is no place for generalists. Freeman explains: “If there are strong relationships with manufacturers, it tends to work out best for everyone involved. A good integrator will be dedicated to a fairly narrow set of manufacturers and products, because it makes them experts. With so much at stake, that’s exactly what large enterprises need.” He also said strong manufacturer relationships provide the benefits of trust and loyalty, which help in pricing, getting problems fixed, and building a level of respect that aids in quality technology installations. An integrator candidate should be able to substantiate their vendor/manufacturer relationships with official credentials.
8. Are you involved in our industry associations?
The best business-technology integrator for your company probably is active in your own industry through membership in industry associations. This means, for example, in the retail world a technology integrator will probably be members of associations such as LPRC (Loss Prevention Research Council), LPF (Loss Prevention Foundation), and NRF (National Retail Federation). “PCI belongs to all of these, and the reason is that we want to demonstrate that we are committed to our retail customers,” Freeman said. “It also shows that we have a deep understanding of and experience in the many issues they likely face every day, at every stage of their company’s growth.”
9. Describe your project management process.
The best business technology integrators have formal project management processes and sophisticated capabilities in this area. They probably have back-office systems that drive efficiency and aid in planning well ahead of boots on the ground. A good integrator must be able to demonstrate a clear path to completing projects on time and on budget, as well as driving costs down. Ask the integrator, “What tools do you have to support project management?” Listen for answers that include specific, formal management tools.
10. How do you keep costs down?
The integrator’s answer to this question should not indicate any form of corner-cutting. Cost-cutting advantages should instead arise from deep expertise, knowledge, and smart processes. Pricing advantages should stem from positive relationships with manufacturers and other experience-based benefits, rather than bulk discounts or cut-rate sources.
In every answer, Freeman says, there should be an indication that the integrator will seek a custom solution to the technology challenges you face. They should go above and beyond what you can think of yourself.
One of PCI’s systems engineer, for example, recently recommended against a client’s request for a certain security camera in the shipping area of a distribution center. Instead, he asked many questions to understand the challenge, then created a unique solution that placed a specific camera in a solid and discrete housing where it provided imaging all the way to the back of 40-foot enclosed trailers as they were being unloaded.
“Some integrators just don’t have the skill sets to solve these complex problems,” Freeman admitted. “If you are operating in analog, it’s really hard to work in the digital age.”
To learn more about Prime Communications Inc. and its ability to provide effective business-technology integration services, contact any of their New Business Development Managers at 402.289.4126 or contact PCI online at /www.primecominc.com/contact/.