I was recently introduced to Bonnie Tinder, founder of Raven Intel. Her startup is on a mission to “quantify the quality” of HCM implementation projects, especially the role of the SI partner. As her site says “We’re amplifying the voice of the past customer so the future customer can find the perfect partner.” It is a noble mission and she has a white paper out in time for HR Tech this week which summarizes findings from the initial 100 projects her team has analyzed using net promoter scoring and other techniques.
In talking to her, though I felt like “déjà vu all over again”. At the start of my career at PwC I remember a firm-wide event where the tagline was “Selling is only the beginning”. We had had a few major disasters and the leadership was trying to push a quality drive in the rank and file. In the mid 90s when I analyzed ERP integrators at Gartner I co-authored a report on SIs which started with a quote from a US District Court case “A Michelangelo should not charge Sistine Chapel rates......for painting a farmer's barn". Our study like Bonnie’s focus had surveyed countless customers and we had also scored SIs on a number of ERP project dimensions. In 2000, a few of us set up a digital marketplace for customers to more objectively procure SI services for SAP, Peoplesoft, ecommerce and other projects. We had planning tools for customers, proposal engines for vendors and we had looked at the whole supply chain of such projects. Our timing was poor with the tech market meltdown and the startup failed a couple of years later. In the next few years, I was enamored with the CMM Level 5 and Six Sigma focus at Indian firms and took a number of CIOs on due diligence trips there and to E. Europe. By 2010 I slowed that down as I saw the rigor failing and the firms getting greedy. In 2014, I wrote SAP Nation because I saw an out-of-control SI and outsourcing ecosystem. Now as I write the next volume of SAP Nation I am seeing folks like Jarret Pazahanick talk about the “Wild West” of implementation consultants around the more contemporary crop of cloud solutions.
Like I said déjà vu all over again.
Some things never seem to change. Buyers don’t seem to have the muscle memory of the last major project failure. Vendors continue to treat SIs more as a sales channel than a delivery arm. So, you have Salesforce flagrantly bragging how many $ partners make for every $ of software, when customers want to see that tightly managed. As I wrote in “Fool me twice, shame on me” I worry that SAP did not learn from the last wave of massive project failures which hurt its brand, not that of SIs. SIs continue to brag about RPA and other automation, but show little movement to more machine, less human in their delivery. We have done hundreds of thousands of ERP, CRM type projects in the last few decades. It’s not rocket science. There should be predictability and there should be significant economies of repetition.
And yet in other ways things are changing. The upgrade and application management onus has moved from SI to the SaaS vendor. The hosting has moved to the IaaS vendor. We should expect Six Sigma and CMM 5 productivity from these vendors. The buy versus build pendulum is swinging as software vendors neglect vertical markets. That brings different expectations of SIs.
What has not changed is that customers are still expected to absorb all the risk. As Brad Keywell put so well in this profile I did of him “Most troubling, the customer is left taking all of the risk, outlaying all of the money, and then holding the bag if the implementation is a failure – the legacy risk-reward model is out of whack. Legacy software vendors ask for money but then avoid accountability for outcomes.”
In the last two decades most CIOs have expanded their stable of service providers – contract manufacturers, 3PLs, digital agencies, design thinking firms, service arms of industrial asset vendors. Many look at me and shake their heads when I tell them they still have to keep an eye on their HCM and CRM and ERP implementers.
Why are we still fighting that battle decades later, they ask? Welcome to Groundhog Day.