Tuesday, December 07, 2010

MS BI RFP - Key differentiators to stay ahead in the league

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Right from the role of an associate architect to the role of an account manager, right from pre-sales to account management, I have evidenced that at every stage, one remains faced with the challenge of providing a key differentiator. This challenge can with be with your competitors or even within different teams competing for excellence. Talking about the Request For Proposals that clients invite from multiple solution providers, there are many factors that act as a differentiator which helps client in their decision making. In my views, RFP is not just science, it's art + science, where you blend a solution such that the client is able to accept, digest and accommodate. Please keep in view that the below points are from the eyes of an architect, and not a typical sales person / project management professional.

1) Robustness, outsourcing, design patterns, certified professionals, company size and more. Sales folks would swear by these words, but in my views these are not the differentiators. These can bring a good level of confidence in the engagement economics of a project, but not in the design of the solution. All reputed solution providers would have more or less same traditional design, same outsourcing pyramid, same quality of staff more or less. I have seen huge multinational clients giving away projects to small companies, considering the philosophy that "It's better to be top valued client of 10th best solution provider, than being 50th valued client of the top ranked solution provider."

2) Outsourcing might provide a cheaper solution development cost, but if the solution design has the effect of raising TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), then clients would definitely shy away from the same. This would work well with support projects, but not in case of a fresh solution design and development. One should always pay attention to the technology roadmaps shared by technology providers like Microsoft, Oracle and others, so that the designed solution is ensured to sustain for an acceptable duration of time with reasonable support.

3) Choice of technology platform and components is very vital. Technology is highly driven by innovation, and if your solution completely lacks innovation, even a weak competitor may nail a big blow with an innovative solution that might appeal the client in a brilliant manner. Cloud and SaaS are two of such areas. When a solution can be provided using MS BI and Amazon EC2, a solution proposed using even SQL Server Standard Edition with the biggest range of outsourcing, would fall flat. An innovative solution using a mix of cloud and in-premise technology components can defy even an extremely low cost traditional in-premise solution, as license costs would be the killer.

4) Fabrication speed of solution design and development can help you quote very aggressive "Time to Market". This can be powered by a very well planned Center Of Excellence practice within an organization. This gives the dual advantage of readiness to deal with any technical challenges and speed of execution. Whenever some client visits a production plant, they are shown the machinery and the production units, as a part of confidence building exercise. Listing out in-house developed components / framework ready to be plugged in the proposed solution can be a very big catalyzer to convince clients of an aggressive time to market proposal.

5) Pluggability. I know there is no such word like this, but what I mean is, how flexible is the solution in terms of to and fro integration with external systems, along with it's reusability. Archiecture should be consciously designed, such that each logical unit can be consumed by any external subscribers with least possible complexity, which is generally buzzed by the term Service Oriented Archiecture.

Different stakeholders of project acquisition and management would have different views to it. But being an architect, one needs to contribute directly or indirectly to pre-sales activities, and the above views can be helpful to save your shoulder from burning, if architecture design is at blame. Solution and architecture might be perfect from a technology perspective, but this is not the perspective from which clients would see at it. There are a lot of factors that contribute to a winning bid, but considering the scope and role of an architect in the RFP, I feel about points would sound fair. If you have more to add to this, please feel free to add your comments or email me to share your views.

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