Last week I chaired a discussion on “Working with integrators” at our annual practitioners-only SharePoint Day. The topic is relevant for other systems as well, but we quickly agreed that finding the right system integrator is an overlooked SharePoint success factor. Everybody around the table acknowledged that system integrator costs usually take most of the budget (a well-known phenomenon known as SITATM).
The delegates at the table each worked with very different types of system integrators and had very mixed outcomes. One had been very impressed until the contract was signed. After that, several team members from the system integrator were substituted for less experienced colleagues. This was quite disappointing and the project experienced delays and cost overruns. You may want to ensure that your contract somehow restricts how the system integrator can change their team. In return, any experienced system integrator would ask for reciprocation, meaning that they also have valid concerns when you change your team. You may not like it, but this would actually be quite fair.
One of the delegates had a good experience with a small boutique consultancy with less than 10 employees. Coincidentally, that same delegate was also quite experienced with SharePoint, which always plays an important role in the equation.
Another delegate had opted for a larger agency that offered much more than SharePoint integration. This delegate was far from impressed and felt that the integrator in particular was missing experience from related projects, at least when they started around 18 months ago. If the agency can produce no SharePoint references on the same version as they are offering you, you risk being exposed to first-mover disadvantage. If you want to avoid paying for training the integrator, you should make references from related projects an important evaluation criterion, when you identify the right system integrator.
In our discussion we also covered the question of when you should consider divorcing your system integrator. One customer had recently revoked their marriage with a system integrator and it was an expensive and unpleasant exercise. To get started with a new agency, they initially opted for a only a small scoping exercise with the integrator after which they had a go/no-go option. This is usually a good approach as it manages some of the risk involved in a web project and also encourages dialogue and understanding on both sides of the table.
Only one participant in the discussion had a direct relationship with Microsoft, which is something I have highlighted the benefits of for a long time. This can help you stay informed about roadmap, documentation, best practices, and other intangibles. In the big picture SharePoint is still pocket change to Microsoft, but several of our community of practice members have called Microsoft helpful and attentive to requests. Under a non-disclosure agreement, Microsoft has also been known to share several roadmap details, which is a positive move.
Finally, we covered geography. “Have them close by” as a participant said. Since SharePoint is more a framework than an out-of-the-box product, you will benefit immensely from face-to-face time with your system integrator. Dialogue is required to make a SharePoint project fly.
In short: If you don’t build your own SharePoint skills and challenge the integrator to do better, SharePoint will remain their goldmine. Have you got any learnt lessons you can share?