How to Earn Higher Marks from Your Customers

Dealing with large-scale companies often requires displaying the appropriate communications and understanding, to go with the usual problem-solving expertise.

Mickey McCarter

When large corporations hire an integrator to assist them, they seek a strategic partner who is committed to working collaboratively to achieve the goals of a project, unafraid of pointing out the challenges ahead.

That’s part of the message sent by chief security officers of three large firms during “The Customer Report Card: How to Get an ‘A'” panel, held at the Security Industry Association-sponsored Securing New Ground executive conference.

Microsoft chief security officer Mike Howard noted that a key role the integrator must play is that of consultant. “We are always looking for a strategic partner. I’m looking for a trusted advisor more than a vendor,” Howard said. “I’m looking for a collaborative relationship more than a combative relationship, and I’m really looking for an integrator that can help me see around the corner.”

It’s important to see the big picture, including all of the ideal pieces of the puzzle as well as the pitfalls, budget constraints, economic outlook, refresh cycles and other factors, Howard said.

Microsoft prefers to bring integrators into its‘operations centers, and as early in the project planning as possible, to get to know them, Howard emphasized. Looking at different matches and different scenarios enables the company to get to know its potential advisors. In the “dark days” of the past, Microsoft had too many silos and lacked an integrated plan. Now, the company follows a strategic plan under the guidance of integrators they’ve deemed a good fit.

Ed Goetz, global chief security officer for energy firm Exelon, said, integrators must demonstrate knowledge and performance. Their sales staff should be genuine and realistic. And technicians should bring forth emerging technologies and appropriate solutions. But most of all, an integrator should really have a handle on its potential customer’s business, Goetz said.

“If you can come in and demonstrate knowledge about the utilities and the electric system, that would be a differentiator for us,” Goetz said.

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As a customer, Goetz appreciates anything that adds value or pro bono perks that are good for the project. Being on time and on budget are extremely important, as are the certifications of the technicians involved in an integration project. An integrator also must understand the client’s company culture, Goetz said.

Exelon is a very process-driven company that started out as a nuclear energy provider. The rigor that comes with setting standards for nuclear energy pervades the rest of the company, he said. So Exelon wants to see not only how an integrator solves an issue, but also how it is going to track that process, along with regular meetings, regular reports and written documents.

Gordon Snow, chief of protective services at the Cleveland Clinic, a large nonprofit academic medical center, said an integrator’s understanding of the healthcare industry was important to the clinic.

“Will you take the time to put yourselves in my shoes or the shoes of those we are working with in the clinic at that time?” Snow asked. “Can you really understand how we are going to use the application? Do you know you can adapt to our infrastructure?”

And don’t worry about being “nice,” Snow said — just be honest and accessible. “I expect them to be transparent,” he said. “I’m available 24/7. Ring my phone, and I’ll answer it. My integrator should be the same.”

The three agreed that big problems are rare if communication is strong, requirements are understood and leadership is involved in integration projects early.

“Folks that talk to our leadership team have to talk at a strategic level,” Howard said. “It is important to have that leadership piece and understand where we come from. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s not a sales pitch either.”