Two business people working on tablet

Tomorrow's Systems Integrator

2 Feb 2016 by Howard M Cohen

The biggest challenge the IT industry faces when it comes to nomenclature is the struggle to identify and define ourselves.

Here are a few quick definitions for the title, Systems Integrator (SI):

“A systems integrator is an individual or an organization that implements enterprise-wide IT applications within an organization. Systems integrators are professional entities who govern the deployment-to-operation lifecycle of a complex IT solution. A deployment can consist of software, hardware, networks and/or hybrid IT installations,” according to Techopedia.

According to Gartner, “An enterprise that specializes in implementing, planning, coordinating, scheduling, testing, improving and sometimes maintaining a computing operation. SIs try to bring order to disparate suppliers.”

“A Systems Integrator is a person or company that specializes in bringing together component subsystems into a whole, ensuring that those subsystems function together,” according to Wikipedia.

“A systems integrator is an individual or business that builds computing systems for clients by combining hardware and software products from multiple vendors. Using a systems integrator, a company can align cheaper, pre-configured components and off-the-shelf software to meet key business goals, as opposed to more expensive, customized implementations that may require original programming or manufacture of unique components. Creation of these information systems may include designing or building a customized architecture or application, integrating it with new or existing hardware, packaged and custom software, and communications infrastructure. Some systems integrators working in specialized areas — like SAP installations or upgrades — may offer more customization for specific applications,” according to TechTarget.

Challenges ahead

The first thing today’s systems integrator needs to do is size up the competition. It’s coming from more places than they realize. Network integrators, on the other hand, will be OK.

If you specialize in network integration where you deploy, manage and maintain switches, routers and other network communications equipment, you probably have little to worry about. People will always need basic on-premises expertise to move data around efficiently.

Infrastructure integrators beware

If, however, you integrate infrastructure equipment such as servers, storage, software and related products, competition is coming at you from all sides.

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, IBM Softlayer, Google, Rackspace and others all want to be your customer’s infrastructure. Why buy, own, maintain, power, cool and manage your own servers and storage when these giants can do it for you far more efficiently and far less expensively?

Because of the sheer economics of the cloud server market, it is highly likely that you will lose this battle unless you decide to join them rather than fight them. Server and storage sales will continue to diminish and eventually disappear for many SIs.

And for those of you who manage to stretch the survival of on-premises deployment, keep a close, careful eye on partners like IBM and HP. Both now offer hyperconverged solutions that are purpose-built from validated architectures to support specific workloads, so customers merely need to order the right configuration for their project. When the system arrives a few days later, it is completely pre-integrated with everything it needs. Plug it into power and your network, then throw the switch. So what is left for an integrator to do?

Plenty of work

Take a gentle twist on Gartner’s observation that “SIs try to bring order to disparate suppliers.”  Instead, let’s say, “Tomorrow’s SI works to bring order to disparate cloud services and related resources.”

There’s the point. It isn’t about the hardware and software integration. It’s about integrating multiple services, getting them all to work well together, to form a superior operational solution — then making sure it keeps producing results for the customer.

Customers want things to work, and they don’t want to be distracted, having to make things work that don’t relate directly to their specific business. This is especially true of IT. Customers will continue to want experts to make all the pieces work well together. The only difference is that fewer of the pieces will be hardware and software, more will be services, and they all will need deeper integration into the fundamental processes, practices and procedures that run the entire enterprise.