Choosing the Right Digital Partner

It’s like replacing the pipes while the water is still running,” said a CIO of a national utility company at a tech conference I attended not long ago. He was referring to the process of managing a complex technology project at his organization, in which he had to balance keeping existing business processes running while making major technology infrastructure changes.

If you are embarking on a content and commerce integration, this will likely ring true. But if you are similar to most organizations, you have limited internal resources with the skills and time to manage this type of complex project. While you know there are scores of potential third-party implementation partners out there that you can hire to lead this project, how do you choose the right one?

There are several important criteria that you’ll need to consider. No two integrations are the same, even if they include virtually the same technology systems and the same implementation partners.

Here are five essential questions to ask your prospective content and commerce implementation partners:

  1. Do they have demonstrable prior experience with integrating the web content management system (WCMS) and ecommerce platforms you currently use or are considering purchasing? Here, “demonstrable” is key: APIs and connectors exist in theory between many of the major platforms for both types of technology systems. In practice, however, getting those systems to work together and to integrate with an organization’s legacy technology is no simple task.
  2. If they don’t have this demonstrable experience, what kinds of incentives or deal terms can they offer you to compensate for the extra time and resources they will require as they learn on the job? For example, can they offer extended support to your internal users for no additional fees? Are they willing to referee troubleshooting between your platform vendors? Will they do post-implementation check-ins to ensure the systems are working properly? Will they train your power users so they can handle potential problems in the future? In short, are they willing to treat this integration as an investment in building their expertise, not an opportunity to add on service fees?
  3. Can they explain how your content and commerce integration will work using scenarios that show they understand your business dynamics and customers? For example, say you are a global manufacturer that deals with various channels: direct, online via your website, distributors, and so on. Can your potential partner explain how the integrated content and commerce system will include one set of processes for your largest distributors, which are familiar with your products and buy in large quantities at set discounts—versus a new customer that wants to make a one-off purchase?
  4. Can they demonstrate expertise in rich content, user experience, and design, as well as in technology integration, and explain how their project teams are set up to collaborate on these diverse challenges? While more and more traditional systems integrators have been acquiring or building up user experience and design expertise, in practice, they may not yet have a smooth collaboration and hand-over process between these different sides of their businesses. This may be the case with companies that have much of their technology delivery in separate countries and time zones from the design-focused newer parts of their businesses. Similarly, digital agencies may have the user experience piece in spades, but lack the depth of technical knowledge to handle integrations.
  5. Are they clear with what your responsibilities will be so that they have access to the systems and information they need about how your organization works? And will they work closely with you throughout the implementation, rather than going off for a few months and coming back with a finished product?

Content and commerce integration is a complex challenge for even the most experienced implementation partners. Choosing a partner that understands the challenge—and takes the time to understand the uniqueness of your organization’s infrastructure and what you want to be able to do—will be essential to your project’s success.  

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