A good systems integrator delivers a system that works, meets the client's requirements and is delivered on time and on budget. A great integrator goes a step further, and transforms business requirements into technology solutions, preferably solutions with a very long lifespan.
Much of what separates the two is the ability to communicate well with clients. How closely does the integrator listen and understand the business issues that the client faces and the needs of the audience who will view the signage? Do they use this information to engineer superior solutions that fulfill the client's needs? Project engineers should be skilled at interpreting business requirements and transforming them into appropriate technical solutions.
A great integrator is able to advise the customer about current and upcoming technology, and will recommend a technology solution that future-proofs their installation. This is very different from simply delivering on the client's demands — an integrator that is simply installing a shopping list specified by the client isn't really adding value.
Many digital signage installations require ongoing support. Content may need to be continually refreshed and updated, and new functions and capabilities introduced as business needs evolve. Therefore the relationship with the systems integrator should transform into a long-term business partnership.
How do you go about finding a great systems integrator that will become a valued partner for years to come? Due diligence in this process can be broken into five important steps:
Step 1: Consider the project
Define and be able to clearly explain both the current requirements of your project as well as future goals. Do you want to eventually transition to 4K content and displays? Do you want to add touch interactivity or live TV at some time in the future? Draw up the project requirements and selection criteria. If you don't have this expertise in-house, consider bringing in an expert.
Step 2: Consider the integrator from a business perspective
Review the financial health and integrity of the systems integrator's business. Ask for and call on references that have installed systems similar to what you are asking them to do. Assess the business culture of the systems integrator. How quickly do they respond to requests? Establish their billing practices — when does a casual discussion turn into chargeable consultancy?
Step 3: Consider the integrator from a technical/human perspective
Match the technical requirements of the project to the skills and experience of the integrator. Establish their ability to customize hardware if required and get a feel for how close they are to market-leading vendors. Be cautious of offers to tackle issues outside the firm's expertise. Review their website for examples of similar successful projects, and ask detailed questions about them.
Step 4: Look at the implementation process
Establish who will actually be working on the project, and what the roles of each member of the team will be. Verify that their experience, skills and qualifications are appropriate. Check what parts, if any, of the project will be subcontracted. Verify the suitability and skills of the proposed subcontractors. Discuss a timeline for implementation, including milestones and payment terms. Establish sign-off criteria, including deliverables such as documentation, training and records.
Step 5: Meet the whole team
It is essential to have a good relationship with the project team at every level — not just the managers. Seek a meeting with the whole team before you sign off the project, and ideally involve all the key stakeholders from your side, too. Look for a team that can contribute creatively but takes a measured-by-experience approach to your project.
Close attention to the considerations above will streamline the systems integrator selection process, and set both sides up for a mutually beneficial partnership that will stand the test of time.