January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

EC Integrators Fail To Make Grade, Report Claims

U.S. firms will outsource nearly $20 billion in 2000 for the strategy, marketing, design and technical services associated with building advanced e-commerce sites, says a new report, "eCommerce Integrators Exposed" from Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. The main beneficiaries of this spending are the e-commerce integrators (eCIs), professional services firms that design, build and deploy these sites. Despite the demand for their services, the eCIs are characterized by "widespread weakness," says Forrester, which concludes that none are capable of delivering excellence across all service areas and few can provide expertise in more than one.

Forrester's report grades the 40 leading eCIs on their strategy, marketing, design, technology and business practices, examining several key factors within each category. Overall, the scores were "unimpressive," it says, with the highest-rated eCI, Sapient, earning 35 out of 50 possible points and the average eCI scoring 24 points. Despite industry mergers and acquisitions, no eCI proved capable of delivering a complete solution; each of the five categories was won by a different company, says the report, while none received seven or more points in all five categories.

"Despite the eCIs claims to design and technology expertise, we found very little evidence of either in practice," says Paul Sonderegger, senior analyst at Forrester. "Reviews of the eCIs reference sites suggest that design fundamentals have yet to permeate these organizations. And few eCIs appear capable of delivering the features and functions that provide a real competitive advantage. "

"The eCIs aren't solely to blame for these results," he adds. "With clients providing unclear or incomplete objectives and exerting tremendous pressure to deliver projects on time, many eCIs toss both site requirements and good processes overboard in order to get the job done."

To get the most from their investment, Forrester says that clients need to hire eCIs with strengths that make up for their own weaknesses in design, strategy or technology. Clients must also carefully weigh their need for speedy delivery against the goal of long-term success. If speed to market is critical, they must choose an integrator with sound methodologies and try to lock in their top performers, it says. Similarly, clients should select an integrator with specific product experience , provided it's the right product for their needs. Knowing a platform pays off in time and cost, but even experienced integrators can't recover project/product mismatches, says the report.

"Best-in-class" solutions will come from networks of cooperating service providers that pool their talent, concludes Forrester.

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