How companies are fostering the rise of professional services
April 5, 2013 —
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These days it’s becoming more and more common for software providers to do their own implementation and integration for the solutions they sell, instead of partnering with outside service firms to provide these services to their customers.
In the past, end-user customers would buy the first generation of applications and install them. But as their systems grew in size and complexity, they soon found that data sharing and other back-end connections were incomplete. As a result, there would be all these application “silos, and none of the data works together,” said Tom Eid, VP of enterprise application software at Gartner Research. “So a lot of the larger [end-user customers] are looking to make the different applications work together in a more complete or more solutions-driven approach.”
Software providers know their particular domain area very well and, though they may not know all the specific capabilities of a given customer, the providers’ in-house professional service teams often know the best practices for implementing their integrated solutions.
“A lot of them will have their own templates and solution kits and APIs that they’ve developed,” he said. “So they know how to implement (their integrated solutions).”
“Integrated solutions” is the key phrase, according to Eid, since standalone applications do not require much more than simple customer service to resolve problems after purchase, he said. “That’s an important part of the trend, in that the more that the technology itself can be deployed as not just a simple ‘solution,’ but really more of an integrated solution, then you’re not looking at what we call off-the-shelf types of software.”
Software providers don’t provide implementation or integration services for off-the-shelf applications that don’t require a lot of customization, or for fairly horizontal applications that can’t be modified, such as e-mail, instant messaging, Web conferencing, word processing or spreadsheet applications, said Eid.
The more that the technologies require data sharing or integration with existing systems, or are being purchased as an augmentation to an existing system, the more customers need software vendors to come in and provide implementation and integration services on a short-term, fairly fixed-rate basis, he said. “They can be in and out in a fairly short period of time,” he said, “and have them running up to a level of stability in the software.”
The most common examples of integrated applications for which software providers implement these services are the packaged applications that can be transactional in nature. “Things like ERP, supply chain, end-content management, CRM and business intelligence are the most common,” Eid said. “A lot of things around what we call master data management and data-warehousing types of projects—ones that require some integration with workflow or process management or policy management. That’s what the vendors are really good at.”
Alexsys is one such workflow solution provider that lately finds itself providing these implementation and integration services more and more to customers. CEO Rich Bianchi said it is easy to do these days thanks to video conferencing. “We travel here and there, but the vast majority we can handle with GoToMeeting,” he said. “Or we come in, and either they drive or they give us the controls while they watch, and we do it for them.”
It’s not just startups or small companies that are asking for implementation or integration services, according to Bianchi. “What we’ve seen is, even our more sophisticated customers are suddenly asking us for more help than they had in the past,” he said. “And I think this is because they have less IT people. You can imagine that happening in today’s economy, right? I can think of a lot of different examples (of companies).”