1. Visit the developers’ office. There is no better gauge of vendors’ investment in their alliances than the number of developers they devote to the integration effort. Demand to visit the shared office where developers from both companies are working together on the integration. If such an office doesn’t exist that means that neither company is serious enough about the alliance, and you should walk away.
2. Get the vendors together in a room and observe how they work with each other before signing up. “You can tell when vendors are making their first sales call together, it’s like watching doubles partners who have never played tennis together,” says Bob Renner, CTO of ForestExpress, an Atlanta-based e-commerce exchange for the forest products industry. “We made [the partner vendors] demonstrate their products to us together as a team and observed how they worked together.”
3. Customer references from vendors have little value. No two installations of big, complex enterprise software such as ERP are alike. Thus, no reference customer can tell you how a multivendor ERP package will work in your company. But if you want some guideposts, demand a list of all the vendors’ past and present customers, not just the one or two they’ve picked to showcase.
4. Two is bad enough; three is impossible. It is difficult enough for two vendors to coordinate their software releases and integrate them. More than two and the task becomes impossible?so keep it simple.
5. Get one throat to choke. Insist that one vendor be responsible for supporting the multivendor integration. If responsibility is shared among them, there will be finger-pointing when something goes wrong and fixes will take longer.
6. Vendors must be complementary, not competing. Partner vendors should not covet each other’s sales markets or software functionality. If they do, the alliance will fail?a victim of competition.
7. Be prepared to wait. Partner vendors will always attend to their core products first. Integration upgrades will inevitably lag behind upgrades of the individual software packages.
8. Become a market watcher. CIOs have to become financial and technology analysts and determine whether vendors’ alliances will hold together.
9. Don’t accept “coming soon” integration. “A vendor’s sales organization is always ahead of its development group,” says George Ryerson, director of IT for WestFarm Foods. “The salesmen would say, ’We can’t show you because it’s in the next release, but it’ll be a knockout.’ We used to break out laughing when we heard that one.”
10. If the vendors can’t deliver, accept failure and move On. If the integration between two vendors’ software isn’t working right or isn’t complete after a year of trying, stop the project. Prolonging the agony will cause real damage to your business.