ECM Integrators … Should They Be Vendor Neutral Any More?

I am taking a one-week break from the 4 step governance approach to comment on a related topic.

An ECM consulting firm I hold in high regard (name withheld) recently published an article justifying a vendor neutral ECM consulting / system integrator strategy.  As I read this article, it struck me as a very 1980s point of view.  Back when the vendor landscape had hundred’s firms and the technology was less mature, this may have been an enlightened perspective and strategy.  In this article, the firm laid out all the reasons why their vendor neutral strategy made sense but failed to point out the reasons why it no longer makes sense.

I’ll focus on a single reason … access to information and certifications.  Having access to essential information is critical to successful ECM solution delivery and value creation. 

Let me explain … I would imagine any vendor is willing to make a certain level of information available to any consulting or system integration firm that inquires.  In the case of IBM, that information is limited to what is publicly available (as you might expect).  Firms that have “official” relationships with IBM are entitled to another level of information, much of which is confidential and not publicly available for obvious reasons.  IBM partners are entitled to, and depend on (to deliver customer value), access to detailed product plans, training materials and most importantly product and solution certifications.

Customers tell us they only want to deal with certified partners.  They insist on partners having access to the latest plans and technical info … and they prefer those integrators who have invested in skilled and certified personnel to ensure high quality and high value solutions.  When deployments become problematic, or fail, it almost always is due to lack of knowledge or skill by the integrating firm.  This might seem obvious but it happens.

I know this particular firm protects itself against scenarios of this nature somehow, but I still fail to see how any “vender neutral” firm can provide proper guidance to any customer without access to critical information such as detailed product plans, technical resources and most importantly … product and solution certifications.  What do they do … make it up? guess?

Of course you can still make “vendor neutral” recommendations IF you partner with the ECM vendors you make recommendations about.  That way, you have access to information, tools and resources and an informed point of view.

It might seem harsh but from where I sit, what was once enlightened is no longer so.  The consulting firms and integrators that deliver true value to customers have access to the latest information and are certified on the solutions they recommend and deliver. 

I loved the 80s but times have changed … the market and vendors have consolidated … technologies are much more mature … it’s time to move on.  Whether your vendor is IBM, or any of the other viable ECM vendors, only use certified consultants amd system integrators.

5 thoughts on “ECM Integrators … Should They Be Vendor Neutral Any More?

  1. Craig,

    I really agree and would like to add an additional aspect:
    to build applications on top of an ECM plattform, it needs more than just to use and understand the API of the related ECM system. A valuable application for customers is much more than just using common features like “add, search, view,…” content and tasks.
    There is a strong need to understand and consider the underlying concepts, strength and maybe weaks of an ECM platform to build applications on top, which creates real value for the customers business.

    I doubt, how an integrator or consultant will be able to keep such a deep knowledge up-to-date by trying to use a “vendor neutral” or even “mutli-vendor-strategy” ….


  2. Having sat on both sides of this fence (first as consultant/systems integrator (SI) and now as a vendor), I wholeheartedly concur!

    SIs confuse vendor *plurality* with *neutrality*. In an ideal world, an SI is supposed to give independent, unbiased advice to their customers for the best “fit for purpose” vendor for a particular subject, given their clients circumstances. Unfortunately, this state of Nirvana is impossible to achieve, and any organization that seriously believes that SIs can give independent advice are in for a rough ride.

    As Craig correctly highlighted, the key here is *deep* knowledge. To have a good understanding of the differentiation between major ECM vendors’ portfolios, requires time, effort and investment. It needs a close relationship with the vendor, it needs timely updates and insight into the product roadmap and it needs trained resources. There is no SI in the world that can invest that kind of effort in more than a couple of vendors – at most! For anything beyond that they rely on the same analyst reports, industry publications and blogs (read hearsay…) as we all do.

    And to make things worse… SIs make their living by putting bums on seats. When an SI has invested time and effort to train resources on a particular vendor’s product, the last thing they want to do is recommend another vendor to their customers and risk having people sitting on the bench, or having to constantly retrain them. So much for “independent” and “unbiased”…


  3. I agree to some extent — We are partners with two of the top tier ECM Vendors and have extensive teams for both vendors. With that we often go into a new account as vendor neutral. The reason is we need to capture the requirements of the customer first. With these requirements we can then create a Road-map or ECM Governance Plan that will include the best vendor fit for the customers requirements. Now to be able to do this we must stay on our “A” game and all of our team members are certified on all vendors products and services. The Key here is that we sell ECM Services not Products. This is a big difference.


  4. I would respectfully disagree and suggest a provision. To be a proper vendor neutral consultant requires that you NOT be an integrator in the first case. A true independent consultant must be aware of the many product alternatives and what they look like in a working environment. Integrators need to know how to turn things on and must know the particulars and peculiarities of a given product. To get this knowledge they spend considerable time and may even participate in the global sham of “certification”. This investment and the need to obtain a return on it taints any possibility of being neutral. If the practitioners of the world were more diligent the words consultant and integrator should never be in the same sentence. And consultant as a stand alone descriptor should be reserved to those that do not provide anything else. It would be proper however to narrow ones consulting practice to being an “EMC Consultant” or “Autonomy Consultant”. This would put the question to the charade of being neutral and allow customers to choose appropriately.

  5. I agree with Jim. There are a number of truly vendor neutral and highly experienced consultants in the industry and a very large number of consultants who claim this without having the necessary experience and/or credentials.

    The issue and problems being encountered by organizations is that there are many consultants who claim experience with a wide range of vendor products, when in fact their experience is related to writing RFP’s and helping manage the procurement process. Being vendor neutral is very important, but also so is a wide range of experience working with these technologies. Understanding how ECM technologies operate, what the strengths, and weaknesses, of the various products in the industry is what organizations need, not consultants that are trained on specific products. The concept of having training on all available, or at least the larger, products in today’s market is unrealistic. The result is that some of the consultants who claim to be vendor neutral are either resellers, integrators, or receive a “finders-fee”, “commission”, or other type of money for each client/project they bring to the vendor. This greatly limits the neutrality for anyone. The important thing is that the consultant should absolutely be vendor-neutral and work on behalf of the best interests of the client, regardless of which “vendor certifications” they may have.

    Our industry has been plagued with “instant” experts and “neutral” consultants who simply use those terms in an effort to create a perspective that is not accurate. The key question to ask is: Has the consultant receive any money, in any form, from any vendor (including writing papers, reviews, finder-fees, etc.). If the answer is “yes”, then they are not neutral. That does not mean they aren’t knowledgable with the product(s) they recommend, but simply that the client needs to know the predisposition of the consultant.

    We are seeing more and more organizations require clear and unambiguous statements such as clarification on ANY funding received by the consultant. The days of the “wild west” of people becoming experts and/or vendor-neutral is coming to a close, but clearly not going away, but rather organizations are paying more attention to the experience levels.

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