Specialists, Scrutiny and SI Selection: 8 Questions to Ask When Implementing MDM (Part 2)

This is the second half of an article that I’ve divided up into two subsections: four questions you should be asking yourself and four that you should be asking a potential SI. For the full introduction and the four questions you should be asking yourself as you go through the process of SI selection, make sure you see part one.

Here are the four most important questions (in my humble opinion) to be asking about potential systems integrators as you plan out your MDM implementation, carrying over from the first four questions in the earlier article to bring our total up to eight.

5.       How closely have you scrutinized their MDM credentials?

I realize I’m stating the obvious, but it is such an important factor for a successful MDM program that failing to judge the SI on its MDM experience equates to nothing less than gambling with your organization’s invested funding. As you explore the MDM credentials of candidate SIs, there are a couple of things that should be addressed which might not be as self-evident as they seem.

Quite often MDM projects involve multiple SIs and it’s important to keep in mind that not every SI will have had the same level of involvement or contribution towards the MDM program. Be sure to seek details not only on the list of projects a SI has been involved in but also what their level of individual involvement was.

For example, when a SI refers to having worked with MDM before, it could also mean they have been involved in the front-end side of things, developing consuming applications and systems around MDM. This type of involvement, among other types of surface-level MDM involvement, is generally not enough for a team to gain the required insight and experience in designing and implementing a robust MDM solution.

Once you’ve established the SI’s experience with MDM, the next thing you need to question is whether the team they’ll be sending to work on your implementation individually reflects the same experience. When engaging with the SI, you naturally want to make sure you’re getting the A-team.

With an ever-growing MDM market, it’s understandable that not everyone on an implementation team can be an expert of many decades, but a successful MDM program does require that the people in key decision-making and managing roles be established MDM veterans.

Without experienced leadership in the team, you can expect many bumps and even the occasional dead end along the road of your implementation – and, unfortunately, these are the sorts of obstacles that tend to show up fairly late in the cycle when you’ve already spent a lot of time and money. Look for a bare minimum of true MDM experts to be assigned to your specific project – there’s no sense in paying a premium MDM SI for their extensive experience if the team they send you is made up entirely of newer hires.

6.       Will the accelerator(s) offered by the SI truly accelerate your MDM program?

If the SI you’re looking at has been involved in the MDM space for a significant amount of time, expect them to have MDM-specific accelerators that they can offer you, ideally designed to reduce the costs and improve the quality of project delivery. Almost all vendors will have some sort of line-up of accelerators to try to sell you on – the important thing is ensuring you understand what kind of accelerators will actually provide your MDM solution with true advantages.

Right off the bat you should be subjecting any proposed accelerator to questions that can validate its inherent usefulness:

  • How much time can you expect to save by using it?
  • How much cost can you expect to save by using it?
  • What will happen when the implementation is completed?
  • Is it useful only to the SI or also to you as a client?
  • Will you be charged extra to keep it over time?
  • What support is there for the accelerator?
  • Have their other clients used this accelerator? Did they benefit?
  • If it’s new and unproven, was it created to address a real business need?

Keep in mind that every MDM project is slightly different; an accelerator may have inherent value for one organization, but your MDM goals and challenges won’t be identical to theirs, and this can impact whether the price of a particular add-on is worth the expense.

A good accelerator can be of immense benefit to an implementation, but beware of sales pitches trying to push a shiny box on you that may, ultimately, prove to be empty.

7.       What sort of relationship do they have with the MDM product vendor?

MDM is a long-term investment. The consequences of each business and technical decision around your MDM solution will stay with your organization for years to come. With that in mind, it’s important to develop a solid understanding of the MDM product vendor’s future direction and stay in touch with them as that direction evolves.

Both you and your system integrator will need to ensure this alignment with the product vendor, as the SI will be making significant decisions on your behalf and their attention to and knowledge of the product vendor is extremely critical to both working with the current version and planning for what’s coming in the future.

It’s also worth noting that a SI’s willingness and ability to influence a product vendor is a key factor in resolving any product issues or enhancements.

One aspect of this relationship is having a thorough and attentive understanding of the Product Vendor’s license terms. More often than not, the license terms for a piece of MDM software are quite complex; they’re usually imposing to approach for even the strong-of-heart. Understanding the implications of architectural decisions to the license terms of your MDM software should be one of the responsibilities of your SI, and so a solid understanding these terms is an extremely important trait in the team that will be implementing your MDM solution.

For example, a product vendor might sell the product with limitations on which aspects can be used, mandating that certain parts of the model, services, or data volume must be within specified limits. Your SI should be aware of these constraints while making decisions on how to configure and customize the MDM product, or you may find yourself with unexpected charges down the road to pay for using a product beyond the terms of your license.

10.       Is their approach one that produces a solution with true longevity?

Now we come to the question that I think is the most important one to ask and the one at the heart of every other question: will this MDM solution be built to last? Any number of factors can result in an MDM implementation that is fine on the surface level but expires after only a few years. The best SIs will create a solution for you that is imbued from the ground up with best-practices designed for long-term success. This is the sign of a SI that views you as a business partner and not as a one-time customer – if anything about their approach feels transactional in nature, you should be hearing those alarm bells going off in your head.

Successful and effective MDM programs require the level of discipline and rigour practised by product development teams. Most MDM programs mature over a number of releases and the organization builds its trust in the MDM solution based on the success of those releases. Consuming applications, which can be considered the clients of an MDM system, expect the reliability and repeatability of a fully-fledged “product” in every MDM release. This is only achieved by running the MDM program with the same standards found in a product development process.

Additionally, most businesses and architectural decisions made during an MDM implementation require the foresight and anticipation to ensure any services and data offered by the MDM solution will be of use not just to immediate consumers but also to consumers that may come on board further down the road.

Product development teams make such anticipatory decisions every day; many system integration teams, however, have little experience with or foundation in product development. This results in two significantly different methodologies driving superficially similar vendors: product development style teams put a lot of emphasis on documentation, automation, testing, configurability, and re-usability  where SI teams without the influence of product development ancestry will traditionally place less emphasis on these aspects of the software.

As a client, targeting vendors with a background in product development is one easy way to ensure that the solution you’re purchasing will be built with an inherent robustness designed to stand the test of time as well as scale with your organization.

This points to an overall consideration that you should be looking for in any potential MDM implementation partner: a willingness to work with you to understand your long-term strategic vision for your MDM. Your MDM implementation partner should be applying their experience to your specific needs, and not trying to redefine your needs to better fit their experience. When it comes to MDM, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution, and the good system integrators will be able to quickly identify the commonalities and the differences between your organization’s unique goals and the goals of the projects they’ve been part of in the past. Their job is not to create The Perfect MDM Solution – it’s to create the MDM solution that is perfectly tailored to you.

This is even more important if you’re not starting from a place with clearly established MDM goals to begin with. While I strongly urge you not to even begin looking for your implementation partner until you have these goals clearly defined, I do recognize that the sad reality is that many clients will invest in putting a MDM solution in place without fully understanding the potential advantages it presents for their business and the potential challenges it will pose. Trustworthy advice from an expert can mean the difference between success and failure in a situation like this. Consultants who’ve worked on dozens of different MDM projects, both successful and unsuccessful, can provide an informed perspective that no amount of theoretical prediction can match.

Closing Remarks

This is my ultimate piece of advice for you in your search for the perfect SI to do your MDM implementation: Do not shy away from investing in a small project to assess the true capabilities of your SI partner’s team before making a long term commitment. The scope of work can range from establishing a high-level architecture, developing a POC to explore some specific features of a MDM tool, assessment of your current MDM program etc. Such a project doesn’t have to be many months long   – a few weeks of working with a potential SI can be all you need to have complete confidence that they’re the ideal partner to help you with your MDM implementation. Not only will it help you to understand the SI’s strengths and weaknesses, it will also give you a good picture of where you stand as an organization with your MDM program.

Do your homework before you make decisions and you’re setting yourself up for a world of success with your MDM program.

Industry, Integration, MDM, MDM Implementation, SI Selection

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