The art of selling a business solution is becoming more crucial for integrators competing in the corporate world, Ovum analysts say. But the research firm warns this may prove harder to deliver as the skills shortage worsens.
Ovum research director for public sector, Steve Hodgkinson, said business consulting was an increasingly necessary part of a systems integration sale. This was being driven by the transformational nature of IT service engagements and the trend towards contracts based on business, rather than IT, outcomes.
"Systems integration needs to be part of an integrated business change project - it's about change, not just software," Hodgkinson said.
"Integration partners are more useful if they can also offer integrated management that takes care of the business change, with SI part of a coherent program." Ovum defines business consulting as supplying advice on business strategy, structure and operations to meet corporate goals. This covers market and business strategy consequences, organizational structure, process re-engineering and design, and embedding new processes operationally.
"The key issue is that clients don't like the term 'IT consulting' and SIs have traditionally been branded as that," Hodgkinson said. "Business consulting reinforces the notion that in order for IT to be successful, you have to stop talking about IT as separate to business - you have to bridge the gap." But while a business consulting mindset is crucial, Hodgkinson said suppliers had to ensure the team on the ground could put it into practice.
"You have to give robust assurance of the people doing the project. There's been too many instances where companies had good capabilities, but the people on the ground didn't," he said. "It's not good enough to win the job, then fi gure out how to resource the project. You have to keep a sustainable pool of people.
"This problem will increase as skills shorten. I see it as one of the biggest problems with large SI projects."
SIs should also take stock of their operational consulting limits and avoid tackling enterprise decisions, Hodgkinson said.
"You have to make sure the business consulting revolves around integrating, and is not seen as biasing a customer's decision towards other parts of that [SI] business," he said.
Several local integrators have already stepped up their business-oriented sales focus. Queensland-based integrator, Data#3, is overhauling its company structure in favour of business technology delivery. To do this, it is moving away from a technical skills focus and adopting "solution" sets such as mobility, information lifecycle management and business continuity. Managing director, John Grant, said business consulting was the top end of what it was trying to achieve.
"There's no doubt it's increasingly important these days," he said. "There's no lack of demand around technology expertise because it remains complex, and skills are short. But there's in creasing demand from CEOs and the boards to know what they're paying for and that's where business consulting comes in."
Melbourne-based Southern Cross Computer Systems (SCCS) established a consulting practice last year covering governance, strategic planning, information security services and risk management. These services are offered independently, or bundled into overall integration time.
Dimension Data also has a small consulting division. Corporate communications manager, Martin Aungle, said it was investing in two areas: high-end technical architecture, and ITIL consulting.
And although already focused solely on services, ASX-listed company, Oakton, is ramping up its consulting capabilities with its acquisition of solutions company, Acumen Alliance. The deal, which will cost up to $45 million, was announced last week.
Ovum's Hodgkinson recommended SIs blend business consulting practices into the overall integration package.
"Consultants need to work symbiotically with the SI team to chase clients. We've seen it time and again where consultants don't have adequate incentives to work together," he said.
"At a margin level, not all projects will be fully integrated strategy and SI - there might be standalone SI or strategy [contracts]. But the core philosophy should be both servicing clients more effectively, and also creating more integrated projects which leverage all capabilities."
Data#3's Grant said it was ultimately about utilising your best qualities.
"As long as you offer things valued by the customer, then there's plenty of opportunity to grow your business these days," he said.