RIP Systems Integrators, long live Value Creators!

In a piece from 2019 entitled RIP System Integrators, Paul Esherwood asked the rhetorical question — can systems integrators re-invent themselves as quickly as the technology changes that they put in place for customers of major IT vendors?

Esherwood is not far from the mark when he writes that “the advent of cloud applications and infrastructure has changed the game; not just for the vendors and users, but also for the hundreds (if not thousands) of consultancies, integrators and partners that make a life’s work out of enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects. The fundamental nature of cloud-native applications means that source-code customisation is a thing of the past, putting an end to the role of the technical developer. Endless functional workshops used to capture processes are being scrapped in favour of standardised design. Digital infrastructure has all but ended the value of the IT manager and killed off DBAs at a stroke.”

There is probably some hyperbole in a few of those statements; IT manager jobs are growing at 10 percent per year according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics – faster than the average growth for other job categories.

Where Esherwood really gets it right though is the increasing importance of change management and trust, writing that systems integrators “now have to work with a business to make it fit with the system, usually as part of a much broader transformation programme. That change in dynamic puts a completely different emphasis on the SI’s role – and at the core of the new role – is trust.”

Let’s delve into both of those topics briefly, as these are the areas we see customers placing increasing importance.

 

Change matters more

In the early days B.C. (before cloud), enterprise software implementation generally required a system integrator team to spend several months in a room with the customer’s project team, defining how they do business and then on paper design a solution. The systems integrator would then need to build out that solution around the defined business needs, using standard functionality where possible and filling in the gaps with multiple pricey source code modifications.

But now we help the customer adopt new best practices in standard software instead of building the software around their processes, therefore really focusing on the 5-10 percent of their business which differentiates them. However, with cloud the change journey does not stop at go live, no longer do you have years before you get the next innovation which could have been written five years before you adopt it. The real reason you want to embark on a programme like this is for the continual innovation you receive. With Oracle you have new features if you choose to take them every three months. Now your software can evolve alongside your business rather than holding you back.

CIO contributor Beth Stackpole documents how the role of the CIO has changed to encompass change management, with responsibility moving to IT from line of business and senior leadership. She cites CIO research that reveals 89 percent of CIOs are spending more time on transformation efforts and 34 percent are spending more time on change management. 

“Now that the CIO role is all in, CIOs are building out a toolkit of sorts, which includes embracing agile business practices and launching training initiatives and communications campaigns, all while burnishing their own ability to take on new challenges related to leading organisational and cultural transformation.”

Change management for Inoapps is an applied psychology discipline that aligns the people in an organisation around the new processes and systems contained in an application like Oracle ERP Cloud or Oracle HCM Cloud. The move to cloud, by necessity, makes software projects more about people than technology, increasing demand for this service. Oracle cloud applications include more standard processes than legacy software products, so there is less work to align the software to the business and more work involved in helping users adopt new best practice processes facilitated by the software. The winners in systems integration will be the ones who  lead the market in applying behavioural economics and psychology to this process to help customers ensure successful outcomes.

 

The winners in systems integration will be the ones who lead the market in applying behavioural economics and psychology to this process to help customers ensure successful outcomes.

This is a high-touch, people-focussed endeavour, which gave us pause as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Change management normally involves working closely and in person with the entirety of a customer’s user base to ensure uptake of a new system. But if we look at an organisational change initiative as being similar to an advertising programme, where you need to change attitudes and behaviours through communication, we realise this is done through mediated approaches all the time.

Having won, for instance, the change management contract for two London boroughs, Havering and Newham and their shared service organisation oneSource, our team found itself having to engage and involve people in a project in new ways. The boroughs were implementing Oracle HCM Cloud, which really requires broad employee participation as just about everyone in the company will use the self-service features of the system.

Our team improvised and came through creating everything from cartoons to communicate key messages, to gameshow formats for educational sessions. The gameshow format imparted information while also helping us figure out how well borough employees had absorbed essential concepts on how to navigate and use their new HCM environment. The team created cartoons to illustrate processes in an accessible fashion, encouraging employees to ‘Be like Bob’ and complete simple processes in the HCM software. 

It is this trust that drives user adoption!

 

In systems integrators we trust

Changes internal to the customer, changes external to the customer – all mean longer-term relationships with systems integrators need to flex and bend.

This is a challenge for systems integrators who perhaps underbid for work and then issue multiple change orders and contract expansions to cover elements of a project that should have been apparent during discovery. An approach like that may maximise revenue in the immediate term, but if you expect repeat business and want the customer to freely share thoughts, concerns and emerging needs with you, it is counterproductive. 

Where there is trust, you can have contract documents that are only a couple of pages long. There will be things that come up during the contract term that are unanticipated, either because they were not included definitively in discovery or because the business situation changes, but a systems integrator that values the relationship enough can make things work without going hat in hand looking for more budget. This may be hard to achieve for a very large systems integrator with multiple layers of management, and a quarterly revenue target to exceed. Trust in a systems integrator relationship will need increasingly to go two ways—the customer trusts the systems integrator to be honest, forthright and have their best interest at heart. And the systems integrator will need to trust the customer enough to sacrifice some margin on a project or two in order to grow a relationship.

I see the future of implementation changing: customers will expect more value than paying to manually configure the system for them. It’s my opinion these tasks will be completed by hyperautomation including AI, with our consultants adding real value to the customer in helping redesign the way they do business tomorrow. Wrapping this in with continuous system improvements, the future will be long term application managed service agreements allowing for whatever happens tomorrow under a simplified contract.  

Customers will also need to trust a systems integrator to advise them, rather than just take orders. Malicious compliance can be a problem in this space, and very intelligent systems integrator teams may simply act on edicts from a customer they know may result in a poor outcome, in part because challenging clients hard, even when it is what they say they want, is difficult. 

The right systems integrator earns trust by being willing to stand up and point out what Dr. Steve Andriole refers to as ‘the elephant in the room.’“The simplest explanations for why so many enterprise technology projects fail – in addition to all of the conventional explanations – are traceable to people,” Andriole writes in

Forbes. “Before you rip out and replace all of your methods, tools, techniques, frameworks, data, platforms and technologies, look closely at the people in the room. Study the belief systems, the personalities and relationships exhibited (noting that many are hidden), and think about how all these influence planning, decision-making, promotions, investments — and yes, technology project failures.”

This is spot on as it’s not the technology that causes a project to fail. One of the things Inoapps has developed is a psychographic assessment tool for project teams to make sure they have the right types of personalities in the right roles during software implementation and rollout. This personality typing tool is one project from Inoapps head of enterprise change Victoria Collier and her team of psychologists who blend behavioural economics with persuasion to get our customers’ employees to fully embrace a new system.

Andriole focusses most of his remarks on people within the customer environment, but if the systems integrator has earned sufficient trust, they can help identify and work around these internal landmines, just as they can consult on technology matters and act as the customer’s advocate to the software vendor. 

 

I see the future of implementation changing: customers will expect more value than paying to manually configure the system for them

 

Sometimes good fences do make good neighbours. There will always be a place, in managed services and other contracts, for financially backed service level agreements (SLAs). But a managed service contract, in these uncertain times, can include budget for work yet to be defined, with the systems integrator and customer determining on a periodic basis where those resources are best directed. Can a chatbot minimise the human need in this business process? Maybe it makes sense to investigate that. Is there an emerging need to transform part of the business with new digital technology? That can become a priority once parties trust each other enough to work together on a more adhocratic basis.

 

From arm’s length to trusted friend

The progression of ERP to cloud has changed quite a bit, and may have eliminated some vendor tricks as solutions are more standard and project scope ostensibly more predictable. Business conditions and needs, however, are less predictable as market dynamics and technologies change faster.

Modification of code happens less. In a pure-play environment like the Oracle Cloud, applications and the rest of the technology stack are guaranteed to work together, eliminating the need to troubleshoot compatibility issues. Database administration and even the regression testing of new updates from Oracle can be automated. So, while technical skills are always crucial, it is time for systems integrators to worry less about being the best technologists and managers, but rather focus on being the best people and partners.  

 

Andy Bird is CEO at Inoapps

 

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