By: Don Riggs
There is an excellent resource in the Dynamics community that is not part of any Microsoft program: the independent AX professionals who serve customers around the world. Independents represent some of the best talent available for Dynamics AX. I doubt if most people could name five of these professionals. That article will explore their role and value.
Who Are These Independents?
The pool of independent AX consultants is primarily comprised of people who have worked for a Microsoft partner, worked directly for a customer, or in some cases may have even worked for Microsoft itself. They are individuals who have invested their time and effort over years to enable them to go out on their own. It takes courage to do this. Most of them do good work every day but are virtually anonymous. Many of them subcontract to Microsoft partners. Some work directly with clients. We all should recognize, if these individuals were not offering something more than what exists, they would cease to be. They provide a flexible resource for partner implementations, many times a lower cost alternative for smaller clients, and they also represent some of the best talent in the industry. One other thing important characteristic: they are focused almost entirely on the delivery side of the business. They make their living leading or participating in successful projects.
Some people would say these individuals took advantage of resources from past employers and then went off on their own. But the situation is never that simple. In most cases these individuals have excelled while working for a Microsoft partner, helping win projects and delivering bottom line value. Many of them have also been laid off. It is a common cycle for partners to hire resources to try to staff their projects only to lay them off in a sales down cycle. Independent consultants have often gone through this ride more than once and eventually decided to step away.
Why Are These People an Important Part of the Channel?
If you look at any ERP system that has a relatively large number of installs, you will find quite a few independent resources. They provide a flexible workforce that partners can tap and a reasonable alternative for clients who find themselves having support issues. Many times, they are working shoulder to shoulder with the partner on an implementation, often filling gaps in the partner team. They may be an outsource for a partner’s development needs, or in some cases they may have a leadership role within a project. In either scenario, independent consultants differentiate themselves by focusing on outcome. They must prove themselves every week.
Where Do You Find These Independents?
The first thing to understand about independents is that most of their business occurs after a sale. Some may be involved in the sales cycle, depending on the relationship with the partner. Overall, their success is dependent on being involved in successful projects. Reputation for doing a good job is everything. No one is going to subcontract a resource if there is any question about that person’s ability to get the job done.
How Can I Tell If an Independent Resource Is a Good Fit?
The decision to hire an independent consultant comes down to a few clear criteria. It needs to start out with an actual or perceived business need that your organization’s management supports. The independent is not leveraged by any other party. This means you can get a reading on critical issues without concern of a deeper agenda. For example, let’s say you are concerned about the progress of your implementation. Many times, people are concerned and they just don’t know what to do about it. This is a role for an independent party who is skilled at implementation to come in and give you advice on where your project stands. This holds true for any aspect of an implementation. Independents with specialized skills can also augment your project staff and provide an outside perspective on your overall investment.
Above all, an independent must be able to grasp your AX needs in the context of the business itself. A good resource should impress you on how well they listen and can translate your input into activities that add value to the business. Here are a few other questions to ask yourself:
- Do you like them? Chances are if you don’t like them they will not be effective no matter how skilled they might be.
- How well do they relate to the team? The building of effective team dynamics is a critical skill that any project needs.
- Do they understand your vision for the future and can they articulate how you can get there in terms of the business needs?
What it really boils down to is that some of the absolute best resources are in this independent group of people. They are because they must be to survive.
Independent professionals serve a vital role in the Dynamics AX channel. I believe the channel should start to recognize their contribution to this industry. Contrary to some claims, they do not steal business from Microsoft partners. Rather, they earn business from partners who are not satisfying their client’s needs.
Unfortunately, based on the number of implementations that are in trouble there is much opportunity for these Independents. That is not their fault. Competition creates a healthier marketplace. I believe it will eventually lead to a better implementation environment. Having the ability to get an independent view on a project before it’s too late could very well keep the partner in the project. When problems arise, many times the client has just as much fault as the partner. An independent resource can hold both parties responsible.