Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Are boutique Sis better at introducing new technology platforms?

I've worked for large companies, small companies, start-ups and I've worked with various technologies – in all phases of their maturity life cycle everything from mainframes to ERPs, to client-server to SOAs. Over the past 15 years in IT something that has always proven to be true by observation, if not by science is that boutique SIs are uniquely suited to introduce a new technology platform.

I look to HP (later on an Agilent division) as one example. Back in 90s when corporations were testing the waters with ERPs, it wasn't the big 6 firms that came to the rescue. It was the smaller, local boutique SIs that came in to help lay the foundation for small scale ERP projects. Of course by the mid-to-late 1990s, all the big consulting firms had their ERP practices (much of which was acquisition of the aforementioned small boutique firms or their employees).

Fast forward to today and we again see the same cycle with SOA. Small boutiques SIs are slowly bringing SOA technology to the table for large corporations. Without naming a certain valley software company, I'll share this-- a pre-sales guy I recently worked with even told me that he prefers to work with boutique SIs rather than the consulting arm of his own employer. So what is it?

I think it comes down to a few simple ingredients that the big companies can't replicate for each and every new technology because the risks are too high for them. What boutique SI offer is the following:

  • Intense expertise in the new field
    • either having invented part of it, worked on it from inception, or simply having earned the stripes through a few major projects
  • Flexibility to work & invest outside a set project plan and strategies
  • Lessened (yet loftier) expectations
    • Boutique SIs often afford the luxury of having lessened expectations from a project management perspective. Large companies are expected to look, act, and behave a certain way; often tying their hands. Boutiques can shuffle around people from client to client and while there might be downtime here and there, clients tend to forgive and adjust more than with a Fortune 500.
    • Don't let the lessened expectations lull you into a sopophoric state. Boutique SIs are not strong on the cash flow statement, they involve more risk, tend to be over all younger. There is an expectation from the client that the risk is made up for with a unique, cost-effective, and elegant architectural use of the new technology. The end goals are definitely loftier on the boutique SI.
  • Boutique SIs are as famous as their last success; whereas larger consulting companies, independent or arms of software companies are assured some level of business because of their name and history. Customers benefit from the hunger to succeed that Boutique SIs are motivated by because they will find ways to make things work with available resources (people, h/w, technology, time, otherwise).

At a client we recently worked at, two of the valley's big guys did not deliver. Overall, the client was left feeling frustrated. We were brought in to guide the architecture and development of the SOA; however, the overarching project was handled by the big guys. Needless to say, we have been asked to own a larger piece of the puzzle for the second phase; we can and will make things work whereas the big guys proved that its more important to have all the i`s dotted and t's crossed.