The challenge of choosing the right system integrator

Business developer hand using Kanban board framework on virtual modern computer showing innovation Agile software development
(Image credit: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Cloud adoption is on the agenda for almost every organization (if they haven’t already started the move or migrated entirely). Your company is likely working with AWS, Google Cloud and/or Microsoft Azure in some capacity.

From what was once just a cost-cutting exercise, moving to the cloud provides a multitude of business benefits for organizations looking to gain an edge on its competitors. However, for companies setting out on the journey to the cloud, they recognize that there are many critical junctions on their road ahead. 

One of the first big decisions they must make is whether to stick and make the journey with their current System Integrator (SI), or switch and choose a more specialist team. For companies struggling with this difficult first step, here are six points to consider when determining the right SI for you. 

1. Driving innovation

Most digital transformation projects are naturally geared towards innovation and futureproofing, and you’d be right to assume that the larger, well-known players in the industry are able to deliver this for you. 

However, they are no longer the only option. Specialist or niche integrators now provide excellent alternatives because they provide you with a layer of focused expertise, which large integrators may not be able to offer on a flexible resourcing basis. 

The choice between the two really comes down to what level of expertise you require as both types of integrators can deliver innovation.

2. Product versus people 

Large and small SIs both work to achieve the same outcome, but with two fundamentally different business models.

Smaller SIs that operate within a specific niche lead with their solutions and specialization, rather than selling people and time. For example, if a SI specializes in SAP in hyperscale cloud, that expertise can bring innovation into the process through automation. They would then add as much automation as possible into SAP workloads running in the cloud, instead of keeping a mass of consultants and architects busy and billable. 

On the other end of the scale, larger GSIs are more focused on providing people and time. With hundreds of thousands of workers on standby waiting for the next project to come in, larger SIs will look to take control of an entire project, offering everything across the board—and providing a wider service. However, it is important to keep focused on the requirements that are being delivered and avoid scope creep – it can lengthen decision making, and potentially increase timescales and costs. 

So, if your business is looking for support across a wider part of the business, larger GSIs would work best. But, if the focus is more pinpointed and innovation is the name of the game, then specialist integrators should be your choice.

D-Tools System Integrator

D-Tools System Integrator (Image credit: D-Tools)

3. Technical expertise versus broader expertise 

First and foremost, you need to trust the company you partner with, and that will likely be determined by their past experience. 

The difference when it comes to experience is linked to the scope and scale of your problem. Specialist integrators can rapidly spot the problems customers are likely to face and respond with a targeted solution because they have deep expertise in the area. 

Larger organizations come into their own when a problem requires a wide array of experience, which they can deliver thanks to their broader scope of services, and therefore resource. Experience and trust are the foundations of any strong partnership with your system integrator – it all comes down to which experience you value more. 

4. Flexibility and agility 

To realize enhanced performance with cloud technology, organizations, providers, and system integrators need to work as one, and become far more collaborative. Agility is key, and agility requires flexibility. Your ideal SI needs to be able to work symbiotically with other providers and your internal team – friction is the enemy of agility. 

GSIs have a process and model that works very well and standardized training that teaches everyone to do things in the same way. This certainly has its benefits, but when it comes to areas that need a little bit more customisation, a necessity when realizing new capabilities through cloud technology, some GSIs often don’t have the flexibility to adapt. 

Smaller system integrators, however, tend to be more flexible, as we established earlier. They are interested in delivering solutions, not selling people, so they tend to be flexible when it comes to implementing the right solution for each customer scenario. It’s important to identify and define your core objectives ahead of choosing your system integrator. For example, if you prioritise a standardized training process with greater resource and manpower, then GSIs are probably the way to go. But if you want greater flexibility, smaller SIs would be the best choice. 

5. Cost remains a factor 

A big part of the decision will usually come down to cost. 

Typically, GSIs will have higher costs. Having more people on a team will naturally lead to an increase in overhead costs, and the scale of resource will contribute to the final figure as well. Smaller SIs on the other hand, have their core area of specialism so will be able to give a fair price without the need to add unnecessary contingency. 

For example, SIs focused on hyperscalers will understand intimately how to secure funding from hyperscalers and their partners to cover much of the costs to do projects such as cloud migrations

Knowing where you want to spend the majority of your budget will again depend on your originally set out business objectives.

6. Mitigating risks 

Historically, companies defaulted to a global integrator brand to mitigate the risk associated with complex technology projects. However, more and more organizations are recognizing the capabilities and value of smaller SIs in the same space. 

In some instances, GSIs have hit problems delivering cloud projects and reducing the subsequent risks, and a specialist SI is called in by either the customer, hyperscaler or even the GSI themselves, to rescue the project. 

Opting for large GSIs with standardized processes is an appealing choice for organizations, but it's important not to disregard smaller integrators when they can offer just as much value (and safety and security). 

Weighing it up

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a system integrator, but equally, there is no wrong decision. It depends on where your priorities lie and what specific set of needs you have when it comes to an SI.

No matter which option you choose, you can always press them to deliver more. For example, if you opt for a larger integrator, push for deeper expertise. If you’d prefer a smaller integrator, ensure they’re able to scale with your plans.

Whatever you choose, both have merit and it’s important to take the time to weigh them up, evaluating which is right for your specific business needs, before choosing the path you want to go down.

Eamonn O’Neill is the Chief Technology Officer at Lemongrass Consulting. Having amassed nearly 30 years of experience across his career, Eamonn is one of the industry’s SAP heavy weights. Witnessing first-hand the growth and potential to make SAP in Cloud more efficient and cost-effective, Eamonn co-founded the software-enabled service provider, Lemongrass Consulting.