What You Need to Know About Vendor Professional Services


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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

In a typical information management technology project--be it ECM, CMS, or DAM--you, as a customer, are bound to deal with vendor services. Here are a few pointers to consider and pitfalls to avoid.

First and foremost, you will be spending a lot of money on vendor professional services. Usually, customers spend more on services than software, often three times as much. To meet customers' consulting needs, most vendors maintain their own professional services (PS). There are others as well that also (or instead) may have services through a partner channel of integrators, consultancies, and resellers who can help customers implement the package.

Similar to support, many factors can influence the quality of the implementation and other consulting services you receive from a vendor's PS. Vendors often have A Teams of their top-notch implementation consultants. These "elites" do not go to every project-they do consulting for important customers. And then there's everyone else, who does everyone else's implementations. The quality of implementation may, of course, be different in these cases. At the same time, you cannot count on elites to stay on your project or to do detailed follow-ups: There are more important customers after your implementation is underway.

A Teams tend to work only on the biggest or most prominent client projects. They may go to support their sales colleagues on especially large deals. There are a few A Teamers who carry around a lot of product knowledge, sometimes too much knowledge, while the rest of PS may have to rely on these few bright stars for knowledge share and education.

Everybody else within a vendor's PS can include junior consultants, inexperienced new hires, "fresh blood" out of college, and independent contractors. In this mix, there's a bigger chance that the knowledge spread will not be even, as the vendor may or may not have trained up these "everybody elses" on their tools. In addition, the problem here is that all complex technology tools require time to master-internally or externally. In the time of LinkedIn, it is not very difficult to research your PS team and make your conclusions.

However, the vendor's own PS will know the product best. They will be most up-to-date and experienced in various flavors of implementations. Even if someone lacks experience, he can usually find it internally by seeking advice from the elites. Of course, the vendor's PS is highly unlikely to bring ancillary skills in areas such as information architecture or user experience.

All vendors have some semblance of the channel-integrators and resellers that are somewhat endorsed by the vendor as platinum or gold partners. But, in reality, some vendors look to capture as much consulting work themselves as they can, and the depth and breadth of channel partners will vary dramatically from one vendor to another. It can also change over time and not always for the better.

Other vendors rely exclusively on the partner channel to do both sales and implementations and only step in for extreme (or, again, very important client) cases. The downside here is that the product knowledge is often inside the vendor walls and is difficult to translate in training sessions that do not last more than a couple of days, in which the channel can participate to boost their knowledge of the tool.

The key for you, of course, is whether the partner has experienced implementers and whether they're available. Also, it helps if they're on the same continent as your organization and, better yet, in your state or region.

Another factor in any services engagement is the consultants' experience in your industry. You may also want to know whether the integrator or reseller can bring suitable soft skills to bear-such as information architecture and experience design expertise-in addition to product knowledge.

Just remember that many partnerships are in name only. The depth of expertise in any given tool will vary wildly from firm to firm. An integrator may be very skilled in one of the vendor's products but often not another. Do your homework on human resources, as you would with technology.