Earlier this week I had an advisory call with one of our gold subscribers who's in the process of creating a short list of vendors for Web Content Management. A US-based health care company, they're looking for potentially one solution for both their public-facing website and their intranet: two rather divergent scenarios, where not all WCM tools necessarily present a good fit.
At the same time, the company will be working with a systems integrator / creative agency to redesign their web properties. The conversation turned to the question of whether or not it made sense to get the agency's input on what CMS they should pick, or even guide the process. The answer is one so often uttered by advisors such as myself: "it depends."
Most systems integrators have tight relationships with specific content management vendors. They train their developers on specific tools. They have teams of specialists focused on implementing it, and SIs send that team to specific vendor conferences and training. Their CEOs and salespeople play golf together. In some cases, systems integrators are even financially incented to recommend a particular vendor, even if it's just a lavish dinner on the town. Or, an SI might specialize in open source, and wouldn't think to recommend a commercial product that's a particularly good fit (or vice-versa).
As a former Director of Content Management at a systems integrator myself, I was occasionally pressured to recommend Interwoven products (my former employer's primary CM partner at the time) in any and all situations, because it was the tool we knew best. (I'm pleased to report that since then, my successor has cultivated a greater diversity of relationships with CMS vendors). I recall one behind-closed-door argument between myself and an Interwoven salesperson, because a colleague and I knew a particular client requirement could be fulfilled with TeamSite (a product our client already owned), but the salesperson wanted us to recommend Interwoven's WorkSite document management product as an upsell, because it was "a better tool for the job." We stood firm in the best interest of the client, and Interwoven was furious. Sorry guys, but that nice round of golf we played together wasn't going to turn me into your quota-reaching vehicle.
So while systems integrator partnerships with content management vendors may skew who and what systems integrators recommend, it doesn't always. If you get a systems integrator or creative agency involved before you pick a product, be sure to understand who they tend to work with. Have an up-front discussion about who they tend to recommend, and why. Ask them if they're incented by any vendors to make specific recommendations. Check to see who sponsors their events. You may be surprised to find they're the same vendors they tend to recommend.
At the same time, you don't want your website to become the testing ground for an outside firm's first experience with a particular piece of software. Integrators generally get adept with a particular tool after three or more implementations. Of course, this doesn't stop their developers from wanting to learn new tools -- perhaps at your expense. So experience matters too. In the end, your comfort level with your preferred SI may trump your choice of the best-fitting software.
Above all, make sure your systems integrator holds your best interests above those of their partners -- and their developers.