The Who, How and Why: Choosing a System Integrator Now for an Oracle Retail Project
By Tom Schoen, CEO
I’m writing this article in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; a time when we are facing a lot of uncertainty about the future. And yet, now can be a time to take a hard look at your technology and operations, and ensure they are as efficient and flexible as possible so you can be prepared as the industry ramps up. Rather than let everything drop now, turn store closings into an opportunity for investment in Oracle Retail technology that strengthens your position; you stores will need to be ready to re-open and your technology infrastructure must be ready to handle the marketing and promotional campaigns that will be needed to get hesitant consumers buying again.
The type of system integrator (SI) partner that you choose for an Oracle Retail project can determine the degree of a project’s success. Whether you are planning an implementation, integration, upgrade, or development work, the skillset and culture match of an SI should be examined with as much care as you put into selecting the technology.
Why use an Oracle Retail System Integrator?
An SI is a partner and lead for your technology project; they manage the work from beginning to end, and have a close relationship with Oracle Retail (depending on the nature of your project, the Oracle team will still be involved to some degree).
The system integrator typically serves in the roles of project advisor and project delivery.
Project advisor: An SI knows the changing retail industry, understands customer expectations and regulations, and has kept up with the latest solutions and features. They live and breathe projects like yours, and therefore bring deep knowledge of best practices and experience from a variety of retailers. Your SI has a pulse on the retail industry, and knows what works and what doesn’t.
Project delivery: The overall management and execution of your project is the project delivery aspect, which can also include managing contractors and subcontractors. Project delivery ensures that the technology solution helps an organization meet its larger business objectives and goals.
Your IT team is Essential
Some companies still view the IT team as a cost center; the people who run the network, the servers and the data center. While an Oracle Retail project should be driven by the business side, it’s extremely important to bring the IT side into the fold as a partner. As an essential member of the project team, IT can better prepare your organization before the project kicks off with the SI, saving you a lot of time (and budget).
Asking the Right Questions
Oracle Retail system integrators vary greatly in the expertise and services they deliver, so it’s important to ask these key questions about process, expertise and service. These can help you get a better sense of the SI’s approach and experience.
- Do they think strategically about your project and ask a lot of questions? Having a proactive approach will help them catch potential challenges or obstacles early on – maybe before you even realize them – and solve them faster.
- Does the team only have tech backgrounds, or do they come from diverse areas like product development, performance engineering, or even merchandising and store operations? Expertise in your chosen technology and application stacks is essential. But expertise is more than doing the same type of project over and over; it’s about the team’s diversity and creativity. A team with diverse experiences has a deeper understanding of your business and objectives.
- How has the SI handled challenges and surprises? If an SI has experience with many types of technologies, they’re more likely to deliver out-of-the-box thinking and creative problem-solving possibilities.
- Is the team is made up of employees or primarily contractors? Employees will provide long-term stability over the life-cycle of your partnership with the system integrator. Contractors will come and go throughout the project, and any knowledge they have about you walks out the door when they do.
It’s Important to Evaluate Culture
A culture fit with your SI is incredibly important, and not something you can easily deduce from an RFP. Meet the SI team – in their own office, if possible – and evaluate your interactions with them. Do the SI team and your team have a mutual respect and collaborative approach? Does the SI look at your business holistically and understand how the project will impact other areas, even beyond the stated scope? Or do you get a sense that they work from a strict approach or template?
How to Choose the Right Technology Partner
Don’t Check the SI’s References
Very few companies evaluate the services that an SI says they offer. Some very large SIs have a lot of contractors that can do many different types of tasks, while other SIs may bring in partners to fill in some gaps.
Regardless of their size and approach, ask your potential SI partners how long they’ve offered their services. In addition, do your homework when it comes to references. Don’t use the references that the system integrator gives you: those are always going to be stellar referrals! Instead, ask your peers if they have worked with the SI or ask Oracle Retail for a list of clients that have worked with the SI. Then, contact those retailers. Here at BTM, we had a prospective client do just that: They called our past clients and we didn’t even know they were considering us for a project! But this sort of detective work is going to reveal an unvarnished look at what the SI does well and where it falls short.
Try to do the RFP Process Yourself
A lot of companies hire an outside consultancy to manage the RFP process for their Oracle Retail SI search. The problem is, most of those consultancies have special relationships with system integrators and they can influence who responds to the RFP. This isn’t a nefarious decision by the RFP consultant; it’s just a straightforward fact that they will have closer relationships with some SIs than others.
For your project, you likely want the best SIs to choose from, not just those who know the RFP firm. So instead of farming out the RFP process, try to do it yourself with an internal team. Get a good sense of what you want in a partner and have a good understanding of the product cost from your technology vendor (they should be able to give this to you before you choose an SI).
Leverage the Downtime
Retailers have been hit hard during this pandemic, and yet I’m confident those with the most strategic foresight and culture will prevail. Align your organization with the best SI partner that can strengthen your position today and help you prepare for the future.