01 November 2004
Ensure a solid user/integrator relationship
By Haro Yacoubian
The system integrator/user relationship is of utmost importance for having a successful project. This relationship comes from trust and credibility. It takes into account concrete steps that foster an environment where a relationship can thrive. You cannot underestimate the human factors with respect to cost, organizational, and technical issues in building a quality relationship as outlined in the following key concepts:
1. Think long-term: System integrators must think strategically; this means a thoughtful understanding, attitude, and concerted effort to help the user develop better clarity and order of their needs and translate the project needs into an action plan. As an example, a system integrator can help develop a better scope, outline alternatives, take into account the user's history, and survey the application of new technologies.
2. Be responsive and timely: Responsive-ness and timeliness is the cornerstone of any kind of relationship. That means you should be attentive and able to acknowledge the user's needs, and the user will realize that issues are resolved promptly. It is not unusual that an issue requires some time to resolve. It is the system integrator's duty to keep the user informed even when there is no new information. The frequency of contact and an understanding of the user's preferred modes of communication (in person or by phone, e-mail, or an FTP site) are essential in a growing and thriving user/system integrator relationship.
3. Understand the user's communication styles: Understanding the user's preferred communication style allows for more efficient, smooth, clear and appropriate communication. Actively listening to and learning the hidden messages enhance the user's belief that you have acknowledged and heard the issues. That promotes trust.
Communication frequently depends on the user's and system integrator's styles. System integrators have to modify their approach accordingly if the user is a driver, rational, amiable, or expressive personality.
4. Understand the user's critical issues: An understanding of critical issues removes many roadblocks for a smooth relationship. Frequently the user's critical issues are not obvious and remain hidden. The history of the user's experience with system integrators, the size of the system integrator, and the perceived organization of the system integrator mask the message of the user. It is incumbent on the system integrator to understand the user's specific critical factors and bring them to the forefront for resolution. As an example, a user might mitigate a certain risk by making a suggestion without a clear explanation or emphasize local presence in passing or try to understand if the integrator will assign certain personnel to head up a project.
All these are critical issues that may surface in the qualification or bidding process and could make a difference whether a company awards a project. An understanding of critical issues unveils the user's unstated goals. Once issues are understood, system integrators must assure the user they are on top of these issues and then show plans and concrete steps to address them.
5. Keep your promises: Keeping one's word is a confidence- and trust-building measure that shows a desired consistency of purpose and action. It means that no effort will be spared to make sure that promises are kept and no promises are made that cannot be delivered in the manner promised. With frequent change in technology and organizational demands, system integrators must establish a risk mitigation program to ensure that interdependence on external and internal factors is addressed and that potential risks are minimized and do not become serious impediments for project execution.
As system integrators think long-term, respond to user needs in a timely manner, work closely to understand the user's styles of communication and management, understand and have a plan to address the user's critical issues, and keep their promises, the overall user/system integrator relationship quality is enhanced; and the human factors are taken into consideration appropriately next to the technical and cost issues.
Behind the byline
Haro Yacoubian is a consultant and former Houston division president of Automation One Group LLC. He holds B.S. degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering and is a P.E. in control system engineering. His e-mail is email@example.com.
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