Long gone are the days when an integrator's job was all about installing product. A growing need for better corporate IT management is impacting technology choices and budget allocation. It is also changing the face of how customers interact with providers.
In a recent survey, IDC identified soft skills as one of the most important issues for corporate users. Examples include communication, vendor management, business and IT alignment, and people management.
"Soft skills and project management are key," vertical markets analyst, Philip Allen, said. "This points to a wider change towards being able to link business with IT. Addressing the business issues is also part of the shift from being product-centric to solution led."
Southern Cross Computers Systems (SCCS) has made project management one of four key pillars in its new consulting practice. The Melbourne-based integrator offers it as an independent advising service, or bundled into consulting time.
Division general manager, Ashutosh Kapse, said customers were turning to soft skills to cope with increasingly complicated technology. He said project structure and scope was often to blame when rollouts failed. Having a structured management policy was a way of ensuring IT was doing what it was supposed to.
"We used to talk about best practices. Then we moved towards needing a broader project focus through portfolio management," Kapse said. "Now it's about looking at them from the beginning and having the framework to take in the full point of view.
"Customers want more say on what IT does and are trying to put governance principles around this. After all, most products are interdependent and touch each other. Having a holistic view is extremely important."
As part of investment into soft skills, SCCS certified two staff as project management professionals through the Australian Institute of Project Management.
"The traditional view was that solutions architects needed to be extremely qualified technically. But it's not the only thing that's important. Understanding project management is also necessary," Kapse said.
He highlighted local government and large corporates as key customers calling out for project management skills.
In a recent case, SCCS provided a project manager to the City of Melbourne Council to manage its technology projects for 12 months.
SCCS national manager of professional services, Steven Meyer-Cohen, said it put together a detailed charter for up to 20 projects the council had scheduled to be finished.
"The council came to us and asked if we had any project management skills," he said. "It's a good differentiator in the market."
Data#3 CEO, John Grant, said project management was imperative to ensuring credibility, greater reference ability and eventual payment for a job. Like SCCS, the Queensland-based integrator has several staff trained in project management.
"In the last 2-3 years, as we recovered from the post-Y2k dilemma, customers have started to understand what competencies are needed in an IT solution. In particular, project management and service delivery methodology," he said. "If customers don't realise the necessity of project management in an integration job, we know it is high risk."