Care and Feeding of the Integrator

You're spending a lot of money with your integrator, so make sure you get the best value from it. It so happens that the suggestions below also bring you much better deliverables.

Make the Staffers Productive Onsite

Make sure that the integrator staffers can be absolutely, 100% productive at all times when they are working on your project. If they are working at your site, make sure that they have everything they need the minute they walk in: keys, entry cards, security clearance, a place to work, office supplies, computers, network access, etc. I've seen expensive consultants twiddle their thumbs in frustration because they could not get a system login for days (just thinking of the bill for the thumb-twiddling makes me cringe). The project manager takes care of all these so-called details ahead of the need. An important component of productivity is appropriate office space. No, consultants do not need a corner office, but they should be allocated space close to their contacts and close to each other. Ideally, arrange for a "war room" setup where the consultants can work either alone or in a group, can set up hardware when needed, and can hold meetings including the daily checks. Consultants need in-house contacts for specific tasks. Make sure the contacts are available and easy to reach. Consultants should be able to show some initiative in getting a hold of contacts and scheduling meetings, but the introductions should be arranged for them in advance.

Make the Staffers Productive Offsite

Many times consultants can be much more productive working at their site rather than yours. This is especially the case during the coding phase. Customers are often leery of letting consultants work offsite: what are they doing out there? Are they working on our project? The reality is that you don't need to hold consultants hostages to make progress. As long as you have well-defined milestones in place and regular contact with the project lead for status reports and issue resolution, you can safely agree to specific portions of the work to be accomplished at an alternate location. One potentially significant advantage of offsite work is decreased costs. Offsite work saves on travel costs, which can be significant with larger integrators who assign people from a vast geographic area. If work is outsourced overseas you should also see significant savings on hourly rates. Finally, integrators usually have fully set-up systems, allowing the programmers to be immediately productive.