Robert D. Grossman

President, R. Grossman and Associates, Inc

Author Bio ▼

Robert D. Grossman is president of R. Grossman and Associates, an electronic security consulting group specializing in casinos, government facilities, and commercial and retail applications. He has worked for Sensormatic Electronics Enterprise Accounts group, Vicon Industries, and American Dynamics/Tyco Safety Products. Throughout his career, Bob has been associated with some of the largest, most complex electronic security projects in the world including for the MGM Grand, US Postal Service, and IBM. He has authored numerous articles for electronic security industry publications and has also conducted training classes and spoken at many industry events on topics ranging from designing electronic security systems to the future of technology in the industry.
July 23, 2013

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Choosing an Integrator: Small vs. Large

At the end of a competitive bid process, our deliverable is a bid analysis report. We look at a number of factors, with the ultimate goal of making a vendor recommendation to our client.

We’re often putting our own reputation on the line when we do this, as our client expects us to be responsible for the outcome if they follow our recommendations. It’s not an unreasonable expectation, but it does keep us somewhat conservative in our recommendations. While we may take some chances with products from known manufacturers, often all of the bidders are unknowns to us, and we need to think carefully before going out on that limb.

Request for proposal
Most of the factors we look at are fairly good indicators of what we can expect. Throughout the bid process we note our interactions. Were they easy to work with? Did they ask a lot of questions that have absolutely no bearing on the RFP? Did they even read the RFP? You’d be surprised at how many questions we get that were already answered in the RFP.

Once the RFP response is received, we look at it to see if it is accurate and complete. Did they provide everything we asked for, including a compliance statement, references, and the appropriate documentation? We’ve seen firms respond to an RFP for a multimillion-dollar project with a few handwritten pages and no background information on their firms, their references, or their experience.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that pricing wasn’t a huge factor. In fact, we start with the low bidder and see if it’s credible and, in our opinion, can get the job done. If not, we move on, but when we’ve found the lowest qualified and competent integrator on the pricing ladder, we can often stop there. In my experience, it is hard to pass over the low bidder, provided it is credible, without some pretty good reasons.

But there’s one factor we now look at with a new perspective: the size of the firm. Our thinking used to be that bigger was better; size meant stability, and a large firm was unlikely to fail, as it would have the resources to finish the job no matter what went wrong. While I’m not knocking the big firms, we’ve recently begun to evaluate this competitive aspect differently, and here’s why.

First, no matter how large the firm, it’s only as good as its branch office. Even if it brings its best and brightest to bear during the installation, the field office will be left supporting the project. So, you almost have to evaluate the local field office as an independent business to ensure that it will be able to carry its weight.

Second, and this is what changed our thinking, you need to look at finances in a different light. We used to think that bigger was better, but now we’re reconsidering for a simple reason: The smaller firms need the money more.

Anecdotally, we looked at all the projects we had done that seemed to drag on forever, and there was one thing in common: They were all large firms.

A small firm can’t afford to wait too long for its money. If things aren’t moving along, it’ll start asking questions and do what needs to be done to wrap things up. Our focus shouldn’t be so much on whether it can afford to finish the job, as a structured payment plan solves that problem — we just hold back enough money to hire someone else if needed.

We need to focus on knowing that the firm is sufficiently motivated to get the job done. And nothing motivates a small company quite like money — and the possibility of a good reference.

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12 Comments on "Choosing an Integrator: Small vs. Large"

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MajorPain
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“Anecdotally, we looked at all the projects we had done that seemed to drag on forever, and there was one thing in common: They were all large firms.” Well, what does that prove?  That large firms generally handle large jobs (which may seem to drag on forever, as they are not simple ‘in and out’ installs)? I don’t see how this comment advances your theory, as lots of those small firms you are now taking a closer look at may not even be able to fulfill the requirements of some of those big jobs (that seem to ‘drag on forever’).… Read more »
Harish Chouhan
Guest
Hi … I like this post. I worked for 2 of the largest IT Service Providers of India. Was part of several RFPs and large deals. Won several 50+ Million multi-year contracts. My take is: I agree that small or large does not matter. How hungry is the small or the Business Unit Owner of a Large firm is. Both Large & Small organizations have failed in delivering sometimes. The key advantages the large org has are: 1. Quality Processes and Best Practices driven delivery2. Ability to mobilize resources from other internal teams to mitigate risks But a good motivated small firm shoud be equally… Read more »
Robert Grossman
Guest
I wasn’t really thinking of agility versus process oriented, but you raise an excellent point. I’m generalizing here, but I’ve long thought that processes and procedures are tools to help you do your job. They can keep you organized, ensure that things don’t fall through the cracks, help maintain cost controls, and a host of other things. But, as an engineer friend once pointed out for me, you have to take care that the tools work for you, and that you aren’t working for them. Tools should make your life easier but too often we bend what we are doing… Read more »
batye
Guest

good point… in my books… knowledge and hands on expr. is a must… as in my field I see tech… with good set of tools but they do not use them… reming me of software QA testing process… 

Robert Grossman
Guest
You raise some great points, and I’m the first to admit that vendor selection is far from a science. At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for direct experience with a firm, although that can fall apart as well, if a key person (i.e. a project manager) that shephereded your past project through is no longer available. Three points I’d like to better clarify; first, when comparing firms we’re looking at ones that have done similar size jobs regardless. So a larger firm may be a national company with dozens (or more) of branch offices, while a smaller… Read more »
manshi
Guest

I think its based on requirements not based on the size of the organization.

Rob Ratcliff
Guest

Seems to be the consensus. I think what Robert’s article points out is that one shouldn’t lean on pre-conceptions that a particular sized integrator will or will not do a better job.

JonathanL
Guest
@manshi  I agree the size of the organization should not be a determining factor as in so much as if the organization can fit your needs.  I understand the mentality that you want to partner with someone with some longevity and a larger organization will be able to provide that piece of mind as compared to a mom and pop shop but you will pay for that piece of mind as well.  There are many small business that are stable and have been around for a long time I do think that it comes down to who best fills your… Read more »
Rob Ratcliff
Guest

It may be that once you’ve partnered with someone, you’re happy with that business and happy to stay together. But as long as that business doesn’t get complacent about having your business.

MajorPain
Guest
Excellent reply! Smaller firms are generally more ‘eager’ to expand the scope of their offerings, and using this against them (as I took your initial comments to say) can lead to bad results for the end user customer. As you noted in your reply, this is simply one of many categories to be considered when choosing a firm that will directly impact the end user customer’s opinion of your firm. 🙂 I completely agree that the prevailing attitude in the industry appears to be that large jobs go only to large integrators.  I also completely agree that this thinking can… Read more »
Rob Ratcliff
Guest

As I think both yourself and Robert have said or implied, there’s no science to these things whatsoever. It’s important, I think, that when looking for an integrator that you can see how a company might fit with a client. For instance, perhaps a small integrator has lots of experience of jobs with retailers, but not with large retailers, or perhaps a large integrator has experience with only large retailers, so would they get a small install right?

manshi
Guest

@Rob: Good one mate but I think there is a possibility as well. Things will depend on the requirement of that moment itself.