How To Choose Your Ignition Integrator
Published on: Mar 17, 2023

A typical project contributing to digital transformation involves technology in the form of a software platform and engineering to integrate it. And let us face it – it is a challenge to trust consultants. Therefore, choosing the right engineering partner is a challenging task. We talk extensively about engineering around these projects and often need to remember the so-called soft skills involved. Independently of you being an optimist or pessimist, choosing the right partner can be a rollercoaster ride.

how to choose ignition integrator

Digital transformation is about rethinking business operations by implementing new digital processes and tools. Rethinking the business, including business processes, is hard. We all fall prey to habits and routines, and reviewing procedures thoroughly might take a lot of work. 

Therefore, it is easy to understand why so much of what is called digital transformation is anything but transformation. Instead, it is adding some digital on the side. The objective is to optimise how the business operates. Technology is not the goal but a tool to reach the objective. Business processes – how you work – must be the primary focus. And that requires leadership and organisational skills. 

It is, therefore, no wonder that choosing the right engineering partner is equally crucial and challenging. 

Why are we all so skeptical about consultants?

In most cases, it boils down to some bad experiences in the past. We have all heard about consulting projects going crazy. Either because of missed deadlines, exceeded budgets, or a horrendous combination. In many cases, it is hard to assess precisely how the consultant charges or what they have done in the time spent. Consulting services are, in most cases, intangible. 

And on top, there is an asymmetry between the buyer and consultant: The consultant is supposed to be the expert and delivers what the buyer does not fully understand. If you are not a hardcore risk-taker, the combination of bad experiences with intangible deliveries and something you are unsure about is the recipe for risky business. 

There is nothing new to this problem. On the one hand, you need help; on the other hand, it could be perceived as a risky business. Traditionally, this conundrum was solved through a combination of trust between the parties and sometimes invoicing tied to specific deliveries. The trust element used to be a crucial factor, but its importance has declined and continues to do so. Business relationships get less personal and more formal and institutionalised. 

The recent pandemic acted as a catalyst for a process already happening: Business relationships moving away from face-to-face meetings and instead over to digital methods. The advantage is evident for both parties, but the downside is the relationship getting more institutionalised. As long as there are humans involved, trust is still a thing. But the perceived value of trust might be on the decline. 

What are the most crucial decision metrics for choosing?

The straightforward answer is risk and money. The business decision to hire an integrator stands on these two essential metrics. A typical comment from a prospective client is: “It’s all about money and risk…”. And I get it – jumping into these projects is challenging and at least feels risky. 

One thing is evaluating the financial part of a project. But how do you assess the risk? Often the risk factor involves something we do not even see: Internal power struggles, previous failed projects, and a risk-averse organisation, to mention a few. But it is also important to remember that risk is a two-headed beast. It is because of the age-old idiom: “Damned if I do and damned if I don’t”. We tend to have an asymmetrical perception of risk. Doing something new or instigating a new path is considered risky. But as accurate as that might be, we tend to forget or at least downplay the inherent risk of doing nothing. 

The time horizon plays a role here. Launching a new initiative feels risky in the short term, whereas the consequences of doing nothing are perceived as long-term. Hence the asymmetrical perception of risk. 
In other words, when we face a choice between a perceived short-term risk vs a potential long-term one, it is human to opt for the long-term. I am not one of those Doomsday folks preaching, “do nothing at your peril”. But I do advocate a more balanced and symmetrical view on risk. Evaluating solely the short-term risk of launching a new digital initiative is wrong.

The best, the most affordable, or the most reliable integrator?

As discussed above, most people are hesitant to hire integrators and consultants in general. Due to this, the consulting world deviates from traditional marketing in one critical aspect: Reliability trumps conventional messages like best, brightest, or even cheapest. Hiring the “best performer”, “the brightest team”, or even the most affordable team does not help you much if the integrator is not delivering as agreed. You have jobs to be done and problems to be solved. Little does it help you to enter into an agreement with the smartest of the pack if they do not deliver. 

Precisely because of previous bad experiences with consultants, reliability is a huge issue when assessing risks associated with your project. Reliability is, therefore, a significant issue when choosing the integrator. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are looking for cues and signals on the reliability of your future supplier. 

Another aspect is that digital transformation projects revolve around organisational change. These changes take time and require long-term thinking. Thus, you depend on the choosing partner to be at your side for the long haul. Little does it help you to start an initiative with a big bang, and then everything grinds to a halt. It has been said so often, and it is still true: Digital transformation is a marathon – not a short-term race. And it would help if you had a reliable partner at your side on the journey. 

How to choose the most reliable integrator?

We are now facing a Catch-22: On the one hand, it is obvious how important reliability is, and on the other hand, it is only by working with the integrator or consultant that you evaluate the reliability. 

Trust is a core ingredient in reliability, which is scarce in the early phases of the relationship. Trust is created by repeatedly entering into commitments and delivering on those. In other words, assessing reliability is near impossible when you have to choose between two or more integrators with whom you have no firsthand experience. 

In the absence of firsthand experiences, you could opt for the impression of other like-minded folks. That is why any consultant or integrator thinks client testimonials are the holy grail. Solid and positive testimonials establish credibility and bridge the relationship until trust comes with time. Therefore, it is no big surprise the prospective client will probe for solid testimonials. But the reality is that while fishing for testimonials, the prospective client will insist on getting an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) signed. Due to the nature of digital transformation projects involving organisational change, most clients are reluctant to let the consultant reveal anything. 

To sum up, it is impossible to obtain hardcore evidence of the future performance and reliability of the potential engineering partner. To counter that, I offer three proxies to help you choose. You could ask the potential integrator: “How reliable is your firm?” But I surmise using these proxies is a better approach. 

  •  Firstly, look for integrity in general. In the early phases, there are so many small cues, even in the smallest of interactions. Do people show up on time for meetings? Do they reply to your inquiries on time? Do they call you back as promised? Do you feel they treat you and your project with the respect you think it deserves? Do they show some enthusiasm concerning your problems? If you are observant, these small cues can tell a lot about the firm’s integrity. Maybe you think, “yeah, but in the sales phase, they all promise the Moon, and then later, they cannot deliver.” That is true. But it is near-impossible for people to pretend to care for a more extended period. Either they care, or they do not. If you look for these cues, you will know. 

  • Secondly, look at how they communicate. When you browse their webpage and content in general, you will get an impression of the level of formality. Do they use “Frankenspeak”, or do they communicate as humans? Business is personal, and future trust happens between people. Therefore an essential cue to the nature of the future relationship is how they communicate. Having an integrator and engineers who understand your problems would be best. And equally important is that they can deliver solutions and answers in a language you understand. 

  • Thirdly, the ultimate proxy is to test how it works. What about running a small pilot project to test the waters? Doing beats talking any day of the week. 

What if I cannot decide – what can I do?

You can always resort to the old and time-tested “beer & pizza” method. For the sake of argument, let us assume you have shortlisted two potential integrators. From the standard metrics, they can both deliver what you need and in the way you want. Objectively, they look equally qualified for the task. How should you choose between the two? The Beer & Pizza method works every time, hands down. Ask yourself: We have to go out one evening for beer and pizza; which one of the two would I prefer to join? 

Business is still personal. Some people give your energy, while others drain every excitement out of your bones. I know some people oppose this view on business and claim that you do not have to like people to do business with them. I agree with that point of view. Liking or being liked is not a prerequisite for doing valuable business together. 

Nevertheless, go with the people you fancy for a beer and pizza event when in doubt. 

If I may say so myself, Enuda is a pretty cool team to have around – for beer and pizza, but also for integration. Find out more about who we are, how we work, and why we do it differently:

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