After signing a contract to purchase business performance management (BPM) software, you quickly find yourself in the transition from technology selection to project implementation. More often than not, the salesperson is around less often and you need to determine how to move forward with the implementation. Who will assist you? The vendor? A third party? Nobody?

In the early days of BPM, some companies implemented performance management systems and processes on their own. If there were enough staff in IT and finance to make up a project team, the tendency was to skip consideration of outside resources. The result of these self-installs was often an interesting contradiction: a relatively happy end user, but a less than fully functional BPM solution. The user would be happy that he saved some money and proud of what he was able to build into the system on his own. However, to accomplish this self-install he often gave up on some of the tougher, more complex aspects of the implementation that were deemed important in his own original requirements document. BPM has become too critical (and too big an investment) to allow some cowboy to go off on his own and not fully meet the organization's performance needs. Organizations now prefer to leverage the experiences of those who have gone before them and the deep product expertise of trained consultants. Today the few organizations that do venture ahead on their own often find themselves reinventing the wheel, resulting in spending over budget and prolonging the wait to realize benefits as the project runs over schedule.

For those organizations that do call in an implementation partner, their choices are largely controlled by the vendor. If the software vendor has few or no implementation partners, you have little choice but to use the vendor's employees who are offered out as consultants. If the vendor has a strong stable of partners, the salesperson will probably steer you to a preferred partner in your area. There are benefits to the vendor and the customer in each approach.

Depending on where a vendor is in its growth stage and what investors demand, the vendor's relationship with partners changes in a predictable cycle. Typically, a new vendor does its own implementation consulting. Until the vendor builds a market for its products, few consulting firms will make the investment required to hire and train staff to implement those systems or tools. In addition, with those first few references being so critical, the vendor wants to build a direct relationship with its early clients and ensure a successful implementation. This model usually works and produces strong references. However, it is not very scalable. In addition, investors may soon pressure the software firm to focus on the higher-margin software licensing business and leave the consulting to others.

At that point, most software vendors look to sign on as many partners as possible. That is what many BPM vendors have been doing over the past five to seven years.

However, the pendulum is now swinging back. Some leading BPM software vendors have recently shifted away from their reliance on partners, preferring to keep consulting revenue in house. A number of established BPM software firms are staffing up their in-house professional services groups, and their salespeople receive incentives to recommend their own staff over partners for implementation work.

Why is this happening? There are two answers: Quality and dollars. When a vendor brings on dozens if not hundreds of partners, some will be below average. If an implementation goes awry, the reputation of the vendor suffers more than the consultant's image. In addition, those same investors who earlier pushed for margins are now demanding top-line revenue growth. You can push the product license business just so far in a competitive market like BPM, and with at least one service dollar spent for every software dollar, consulting is a logical place for the vendor to hunt for revenue growth.

Who has the partners? Depending on the software vendor you choose, the number of implementation partners will vary in the extreme. Some have not focused on a partner-centric model and prefer a direct consulting approach.

Who are the partners? The typical BPM implementation shop consists of ex-vendor consultants who wanted to strike out on their own. Many large business and technology consultancies have recently added BPM-specific practices. Some business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing consultants who provide help with the building blocks of BPM have added or retrained staff to focus on BPM. Firms that specialize in performance management have been extending the range of services they offer. More and more firms consult on both the technology and the business elements of BPM. In some cases, vendor-aligned implementation firms have merged with management/strategy firms to create one-stop shops.

How do companies choose implementation help? The growing number of options should ultimately benefit buyers of BPM consulting, but it complicates the selection process, and the approach to searching for the right consultant is evolving, as well. Until recently, companies tended to hire the same service providers who had delivered previous IT projects successfully. Now it has become clear that a consultant with deep experience in BPM can offset project risks and shorten the timeline. Detailed knowledge of the chosen vendor's solution is paramount.

What's best for you? The vendors know their products intimately and have a strong vested interest in them being used widely and productively, so you can usually count on their service groups for a good implementation outcome. However, when there are many partners you may find one that is conveniently local and even one that knows your industry well. The ideal is probably a combination where the local partner does the bulk of the work at a fair price, while the vendor is involved to ensure the quality aspects of implementation. Your job, and it's not always easy, is to find the BPM software you need from a vendor that also has the right consulting model for you.

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