Does this sound familiar? You implemented your business management software a few years ago and you’re now facing a major upgrade or migration that’s going to take time and dollars to make happen. You have some customisations that need to be considered and some new functionality to be implemented (there’s got to be a reason to upgrade, right?).
The upgrade may also involve upgrading servers and operating systems, or moving to a hosted model. You spoke to your software vendor/partner who you have had a good business relationship with and they scoped the project and gave you a detailed quote, and when you got that back you nearly fell off your chair or at the very least your jaw dropped to the desk!
Or maybe it’s just stuff that’s a little more ‘day to day’…From time to time you want some new custom work done, or reporting enhancements, or to interface to another system. That sort of thing should be easy, right? Especially if you have this great, relatively modern system that’s so flexible – that’s one of the things you really like about it. But again, a quote for that sort of work comes back and you think to yourself, “It can’t cost this much!”
So you start sniffing around the internet, asking some colleagues if they know a software consultant or perhaps someone came to you directly offering cheaper rates for what looks like the same services. They are a small company (might even be one person) with no overheads so have a lower hourly rate. They have experience with the software you are using because “they used to work there”. They have that “no worries mate, trust me” persona which you are starting to feel comfortable with, and they give you some great ideas about the sort of things you can do with the system’s technology or outside of it and it shouldn’t be too difficult.
The reduced hourly rate could save you $10-20K on a big project – it’s looking like a good proposition! Even $1,000 here and there makes a difference – business is tight and you still want to get more value from your systems and process improvements can be made, so every dollar counts.
Beware the temptation to use an unauthorised software consultant!! Your $15K saving could cost you a further $30K to fix because in the end you had to call your software partner for urgent assistance and bail you out of a terrible situation. The upgrade failed and there were no backups. The system is down and your staff are twiddling their thumbs while you are trying to find a solution. You are already 3 days late on the invoice run which will impact cashflow and end of month is just around the corner. The cheap software consultant has left the building, not taking any responsibility and never to be seen again.
What went wrong? Your reliable and trustworthy software partner put together a carefully considered upgrade proposal. They understand the importance of using sandbox accounts to test the upgrade, migrate data (if required) and deploy customisations in the new framework. They understand what has changed between versions and know the traps and pitfalls to look out for. They have ready access to the software vendor if any problems occur.
They know that even little jobs sometimes warrant a little further thinking because just using more of the tools may not be the answer, or the only answer. Maybe how or why the process you’re working around is being done should be looked at and just adding another workflow band aids the symptom but not the underlying cause. Maybe you could just use the system itself a little differently, or tap into that feature you didn’t even know about.
Your Authorised software Partner wants to keep you as a customer and they want to do what is best for you. That means implementing the project in a controlled way and not cutting any corners. They spend a lot of money investing in their knowledge – becoming Certified and remaining Certified. They have a deep and long bench of not just technologists or knowledge in just one part of the system but real experience, expertise and understanding across the software and what it is capable of. That continuous investment is mandated and audited by the software vendor, and their programs ensure the Partner not only stays as completely current on the new capabilities in the system (as they come out at an increasing pace), but can also advise you on how to best maximise that value from it that you are looking for. Yes, they have overheads, but in the end, they provide a much more complete service.
If you are thinking of using what looks like a lower cost consultant to work on your business system, consider the following:
- If they are not Authorised, how much influence do they wield with the software vendor? Can they intervene on your behalf and be your advocate?
- What are the warranty provisions on what they do?
- What if something went seriously pear-shaped? Apart from the internal costs that would result, do they have appropriate Professional Indemnity insurance and to what value?
- Are they Certified by the software vendor? How many people, in what areas of speciality, and in which versions of the software?
- Are they officially entitled to get support from the software vendor for you when something they’ve done doesn’t appear to be working or is impacting on the standard software operation?
- Are they familiar with the latest releases of the software, can they get access to service packs, and know how to install them?
These are critical questions to consider, and to weigh up against that apparently lower cost. No marriage is perfect, and if there are questions of value or some historical performance aspect that there is lingering feelings about, then talk about those and challenge your partner on how that can be addressed. You’ll more than likely be surprised at the positive outcomes – the proverbial ‘win-win’ – that can come out of it.