There are well over 50 companies that provide AMS products to the association market. They range from products designed for very small associations all the way up to enterprise systems selling for six or seven figures fully installed. (Click here to see a list of all these different vendors.)
For a handful of these vendors, you have the option of working directly with the software provider to install and support the software, or you can opt to work with an implementation partner. An implementation partner is typically a consulting services firm that has been certified by the software vendor — meaning the implementation partner knows the product and can help you successfully implement the software.
The question is, if you have the option of working with the vendor directly or working with an implementation partner, how do you choose? What are the benefits of each approach?
Working Directly with the Vendor
The primary benefit of working directly with the vendor is that there is no middle-man between you and the software provider. In theory at least, this means you have direct access to the expertise and thinking behind the software, and that you can directly or indirectly influence the development of the software.
This also means that if there is a problem with the software itself, you can go directly to the source to complain and to work to get the software fixed.
On the downside, most of the vendors who work with implementation partners are larger companies, which means your association is just one of hundreds of associations that the vendor is working with. You could be a small fish in a very large pond, making it harder to get the level of service you would like from your partner.
In addition, because these companies are larger, their overhead tends to be higher, which typically translates into higher direct costs for service (i.e., a higher hourly rate for time and materials work) as compared to the smaller implementation partners.
Working with an Implementation Partner
Not surprisingly, the benefits (and drawbacks) of working with an implementation partner are the mirror opposite of those benefits and drawbacks of working directly with the software vendor.
Implementation partners tend to be smaller than the software vendors they are working with. They will have fewer clients than the software vendor itself, and can typically provide a higher level of customer service.
In addition, because the implementation partners are smaller with lower overhead, they tend to charge lower prices, and over the course of a complete system installation, that can result in significant savings as compared to working with the vendor directly.
On the downside, of course, is that you’re not working directly with the vendor. And as some of my clients have seen, this can lead to a “that’s not our problem” situation, where the software vendor and the implementation partner each blame the other for issues that arise.
So what’s it going to be?
Which approach is right for you? That depends on your needs and budget, as well as your organization’s culture. For some of my clients, working directly with the vendor is the only way to go. They don’t want a middle-man involved, regardless of cost. For others, using an implementation partner means a higher-touch relationship and lower costs.
Only you can decide what’s best for your organization. But for those vendors that have implementation partners, it provides one more implementation option for their customers.
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