11 Questions to Ask Potential Deployment Partners
One of the most impactful initiatives for an institution in higher education is to replace its ERP system or any one of its components. Software vendors are investing resources in developing robust, modern software solutions for higher education, particularly in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions—those that are comprised of finance, human capital management (HCM), and student systems. New software has the powerful potential to improve teaching, learning, and research; to attract and retain talented faculty and staff; to manage institutional finances effectively and efficiently; and to provide data to facilitate informed decision-making.
However, the software is useful only if the institution deploys it correctly. More importantly, a problematic deployment consumes time and money, is demoralizing to the institution, and creates ill will.
Institutions are not expected to have the knowledge to migrate the data, to define the business rules and processes, to manage security and integrations, and to perform all other deployment tasks unaided. Nor will the vendors allow deployment without engagement with a skilled partner.
The partner an institution chooses for deployment is as important and impactful as the choice of the system itself. Staff and faculty engaged in this work must interact with, learn from, teach, argue with, work through difficult issues with, and celebrate with the partner and its team. Therefore, the partner must be knowledgeable about the chosen software and the software the institution is leaving behind. Equally critical is that the partner and its team must understand the institution.
The right deployment partner has a keen understanding of the institution’s:
- Current technical state
- Vision for the future
- Readiness for change
- Technical strengths and weaknesses
- Pending changes
When a deployment partner has done the diligence to understand these areas of the institution, the faculty and staff on the campus who will be doing this difficult work can answer the question, “Can we work with these consultants?” with an unqualified “Yes.”
When choosing a deployment partner, the institution must determine the partner’s competence in finance, HCM, and student systems. It is important to remember that the firm itself, as represented by its executive leadership, and the consultants assigned to your deployment, must possess this expertise.
Typically, determining a partner’s competence is done through a two-step process. The first is through the submission of a Request For Proposal or Request For Information, and the second is through oral presentations where the institution has the opportunity to meet and discuss an engagement with the partner’s executive team and the consultants who would be assigned to the initiative. Both steps revolve around key questions that provide essential insight.
- Firm health, including its financial ownership, tenure, and stability
- Company’s experience in higher education, including with the chosen software, legacy software, and peer institutions
- Optional services
- The firm’s differentiators
- Project management, including management and oversight of billable activities
- Deployment methodology and timeline
- Structure and credentials of the proposed team of consultants
- What the firm expects from the institution
- Approach to technical tasks
- Management and escalation of conflict and risk
- Management to ensure consultant quality and continuity
It is best practice to request the resumes of and meet the consultants proposed for your engagement. Pay attention to the consultant’s poise, confidence, care in answering questions, and respect displayed during the meeting. Approach your meeting with them as though it is a job interview, and don’t hesitate to ask the standard interview questions, such as:
- Individual credentials and certifications
- Details of successes
- Examples of challenging engagements
Also, pay attention to the consultant’s poise, confidence, care in answering questions, and respect displayed during the meeting.
Lastly, and obviously, it is essential to check company references. Institutions should include those that the vendor provides and also those not supplied by the vendor (ensure that the vendor understands your intent to contact institutions in the latter category). If you know of a deployment that had challenges, contact the institution involved, and then ask the vendor as well about what happened during that deployment. A single problem with a deployment may be a positive learning experience for the partner, and therefore of less significance, but a pattern of continuing issues should raise serious concerns.
The time and thought invested in a careful vetting of an implementation partner are critical to successful deployment, user adoption, and successful use of the chosen solution.