The 15 key selection criteria

May 21, 2004
Use these guidelines when selecting a CMMS implementation partner
If you read my review last month detailing 18 popular CMMS packages available in North America, you might mistakenly get the impression that it's only about the software. However, those of you now working on your second, third or even fourth iteration of CMMS installs will no doubt attest that selecting the right implementation partner is equally important, if not more so.Modern CMMS packages are so feature-rich that most users can hope to exploit only a small percentage of the functionality they buy. For many, the true differentiation is how the CMMS is implemented. This includes setting quantifiable goals and objectives, re-engineering your processes in light of those goals, configuring the CMMS to optimize the new processes, and changing behavior across your organization to embrace these changes. This underscores the importance of selecting the right implementation partner. Although any possible implementation partner, from CMMS vendors to third-party consultants, might have a decent reputation and more than adequate technical skills to solve your problems, there are less obvious attributes that differentiate the alternatives. There are 15 key selection criteria you should know about.Knowledge and skills transfer is an important value-added service that your implementation partner should provide. Instead of the traditional top-down approach, your implementation partner should work hand-in-hand with you on the shop floor. The interaction should provide an opportunity to learn from doing, to take time to ask questions, to understand and reflect on what's happening, to gain insights into the organization, and to recognize first-hand why and how change should occur.

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Custom solutions come from a partner that takes the time to understand your issues and challenges. A custom approach provides solutions tailored to your environment, not boilerplate. You get the benefit of learning from best practices and experience in other organizations without the pressure to mold your organization into a single model.Service delivery from a good implementation partner implies they prepare for your meetings, phone calls, proposals, reports and other points of interaction. This requires thorough research and thought to tailor the content to your needs. It also improves the efficiency and effectiveness of your time together. Signs of good preparation are customized meeting agendas, well thought out questions during an interview, and comprehensive analysis of variances in a status report.Other things to look for regarding service delivery include how well the implementation partner manages expectations, responds to your voice mail messages and e-mails, keeps you informed, and maintains the same people throughout the project.Access to senior resources is another indicator. Choose a partner based on the experience and knowledge of its team members. Senior expertise shouldn't disappear after the sale is complete. Senior staff should commit to work with you during every stage of the project from assessment to solution delivery. You don't want to pay partner rates that are used merely to train junior staff members.Balanced work background in the ideal partner strikes a balance between consulting and industry or 'shop floor'experience and skills. This ensures that assessments, advice and recommendations are both professional and workable.Competitive rates are important. Consulting fees range from $400 to $4,000 per day. The more specialized the knowledge, the greater the fee. Additionally, travel costs and possibly higher market rates make outside consultants more expensive. Regardless of the per diem, look for a partner that provides the greatest value. It's also important to look at the total cost of the job and not get too agitated about the rate, assuming each candidate is quoting on the same well-defined deliverable.Risk/reward sharing is a way for partners to develop creative pricing schemes. However, be wary of straight contingency billing, especially if it's tied to some cost reduction. Some firms are so hungry to make a buck, they will emphasize headcount reduction in support areas, such as maintenance. Then, you'll find yourself hiring many of your employees back a year or so later. There have been several scams in which consultants have sold to top management using this 'can't lose'approach.The best creative pricing models involve sharing the risks and rewards. For example, a consultant may charge normal rates for the job, just like you pay your employees their normal salaries throughout the project. However, if the project team meets or exceed certain performance hurdles, both the project team employees and the consultant receive bonuses. This provides an incentive for exceeding expectations. In some cases, you can impose penalties for non-performance, which is only fair if they apply to both consultant and project team employees.Accountability for results means that implementation partners must be jointly accountable with internal project resources for keeping projects on time, on budget and of sufficient quality as to deliver intended benefits. The starting point for the engagement should be to understand how you define project success, and to develop outcome measures and project control mechanisms to ensure you're achieving your goals.Access to national and international resources allows some projects to benefit from a multi-national partner with strong roots in multiple offices across the country and around the world. This provides you with an informed perspective about the local economy, combined with a national or international perspective on issues and trends relevant to your industry. For example, this can be useful in a benchmarking exercise.Relevant skills and available knowledge represent another differentiator. Most implementation projects require consultants with skills, such as project management, facilitation, change management, interviewing, problem solving, negotiation and strategic thinking. Your implementation partner should possess some industry and product knowledge. If the consultant doesn't have greater knowledge or skill than you, you will be forced to train the consultant at your cost. To assess capability, examine the consultant's resume, check references, interview the consultant and look for relevant credentials.Proven methodologies should be used to ensure your partner can be flexible enough to accommodate your unique situation. Also, look for an approach that incorporates the right level of participation from key stakeholders across your company to increase buy-in.Company size might be an issue. Larger implementation partners have the benefit of a multi-national perspective, large resource pools and considerable experience as a firm. But, not surprisingly, there are tradeoffs, such as greater cost from greater overhead, less nimbleness and more bureaucracy.Track record is one of the most obvious things to evaluate. Consultants without the experience, references and technical capability won't survive long.Attitude is the most critical differentiator in choosing the right partner, including a consultant with a corporate culture that's complementary to yours, is eager or even hungry to win the contract, is passionate about the work, and is customer focused.Trust is needed to ensure you feel comfortable in building a solid business relationship with your implementation partner for the duration of the project and beyond. Additionally, you should feel that you are getting an honest response, not what the consultant thinks you want to hear. In the end, you have to look the consultant your partner in the eyes and ask yourself if you want this person to be your trusted adviser.  Contact Contributing Editor David Berger at [email protected].

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