As solution integrators, our greatest value comes from understanding the ins and outs of “the spaces between” our clients existing systems, but we expect stares as blank as a freshly cleaned whiteboard when offering such an explanation. Our challenge then becomes “How then do we describe our craft?”
Engagements generally start with an implied question from our prospects, such as “How can you possibly help us when we know so much more about our business and systems than you?” Telling a new client who has spent years (or even decades) grappling with their very specialized workflows and unique data that, “data is data to us”, comes off as either ignorant, insulting, or both. How many times have you ended a conversation with a client and thought to yourself, “they simply don’t know what they don’t know.” More importantly, how many times do you think they were thinking the same thing about you?
It is much easier to explain [and bill for] boxes, cylinders, screens, circles, and even clouds, than it is the lines and arrows that connect, or at least should connect them. It is within theses “shapes” that our clients live and work, but in the spaces between that they need us most. In their eyes lines depict connections, but therein also reside workflows, dependencies, and logic, or more often than not, the lack thereof. It is also often in these spaces that the most important, and often unstated and hidden customer requirements lurk. We win customers when we see, understand, and have solutions we can articulate for these hidden problems.
This brings to mind recent interactions with a few new Armedia prospective clients. What they share is one-of-a-kind technology ecosystems that evolved over many years but that have become increasingly dysfunctional, while at the same time their user experience expectations have risen dramatically. Consider these examples:
- A Health Sciences company developed systems to manage a speakers’ bureau, and solutions to help pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers manage clinical trials. In the process, they also created a software maintenance nightmare
- An international program that manages independent educators, and uses systems that require no fewer than 13 separate user names and passwords to access. They maintain several web based systems, each built “in a vacuum” by different providers, and each created without coordination under a common architecture .
- A Health System that provides care for a patient population of nearly one million people, they are suffering under authentication, interoperability, duplication, and maintenance issues that together manifest in cascading user experience shortcomings for patients, practitioners, and staff alike.
We will never fully appreciate the history, evolution or the politics that contributed to their current state, and we will never know these businesses like they do, but with the right approach we should be able to gain their trust and help them as they strive to answer the increasing loud chorus from their constituents, “please make your systems work together, now!”
We as integrators are confident we can help them, but how do we gain their confidence? The buying pattern they are comfortable with is to purchase software directly from independent software vendors (ISV’s) and then attempt to hold them accountable. The challenge is that one cannot “buy” the interoperability they need from an ISV. What they seek is “not available in pill form”. One must adopt an approach that fosters interoperability and then must build a system to support it, and for that, integrators like us are the only way. If the answers resided internally or via ISV’s, then the issues would already have been addressed.
Nice post, and so true. I have often had to bite my tongue to keep from spouting off with a “that’s easy” sort of response to a client. When I’ve seen others do it — as true as it may be — it always comes off as arrogant. Instead, I strive to understand and empathize with customers and then deliver them as simple a solution as possible (i.e., I save the “that’s easy” for the design and let is speak for itself). I think another thing that we as consultants bring to our customers is past experience with a technology or market segment. How many clients have you serviced with essentially the same problem? By leveraging past experience, we can often make customers more comfortable by already understanding their market segment, vocabulary, and the hurdles they face.