How to Choose your Independent Software Vendor

What’s the deal with third-party tools?

If you run any Microsoft Applications from Dynamics, Office 365, SQL Server, etc. you know there are thousands of “third-party” products out there. It’s important to understand ISVs so you can take the proper steps in finding the one that’s right for you.

Wait… what’s an ISV?

Third-Party products or Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) are applications that can stand alone or bolt on to an existing solution you have in place to enhance functionality or bring more efficiencies. In the Microsoft space, especially the Dynamics Sector, you will find thousands of these ISV products. There are some that focus on basic accounting processes such as Accounts Payable, Document Management, Fixed Assets, etc. Some of the industry specific ISVs focus on Sales Order Processing, eCommerce, Warehouse Management, Association Management, Grants Management, etc.

Whatever industry your organization lands in, chances are there is more than one ISV that can aid your business. It can be completely overwhelming to decipher between them and figure out what works best for you. For instance, if you run Microsoft Dynamics GP and you are looking for a document management solution, you can very well have over 10 choices. How do you rule any out?

The blessing of ISVs is clearly that there are so many to choose from. However, the curse is the same. There are just so many to choose from. It can be almost impossible to make a decision. This is why it is so important to use your Dynamics partner.

Partners or VARs (Value Added Resellers) have been educated on many of these ISV products, so they know the specific qualifications to look for and the questions to ask. For example, some ISVs have a stronger integration to the ERP than others. Some licensing is unlimited, concurrent user, or named user based. There are two crucial elements to picking an ISV that one has to look out for.

What to look for

The first thing I tell clients is to determine who is Microsoft Certified and who is not. A lot of times clients will say, “Well they all work with Dynamics GP…” There is a massive difference between “working with Dynamics GP” and being a Microsoft Certified Application.

Many applications will say they have an integration to Microsoft Dynamics GP. This really is not a huge feat. Most applications have the ability to produce a file in a format that Dynamics GP can accept. Microsoft Certified means that Microsoft has reviewed the solution and the company, tested their solutions, and deemed it acceptable. Microsoft Certified ISV partners also receive the source code for new release of the products they integrate too, so that they can make sure their solution is compatible from version to version before new releases roll out.

Silver and Gold… Silver and Gold

Microsoft has Silver and Gold level certifications for partners and ISVs. To attain Silver Certification you must pass one of Microsoft’s seven applications tests sand provide three customer references. To attain Gold Certifications, for an ISV application, you must pass one of four application tests and go through more rigorous testing, as well as provide five customer references. There are six different “centers of excellence” that partners and ISVs can build their certification and practice around. They are:

  1. Application Development & ISV
  2. Platform & Infrastructure
  3. Data Management & Analytics
  4. Business Applications
  5. Mobility
  6. Productivity

Another factor to take in to consideration is that Microsoft Certified Partners have to pay fees to Microsoft to keep their status. This tells a customer that the Partner has taken their commitment to Microsoft and to Dynamics, Office 365, Azure, etc. seriously and will be continuing to invest around it. The fees are not small and it shows that the Partner has some skin in the game and is in with Microsoft for the long haul.

Support for Third Parties

The other important element of choosing an ISV is the level of support by the ISV. Since these are third party products chances are your Dynamics partner may not be the one supporting the application. If this application is aiding you in the running of your business, the support needs to be top notch, with quick response time and a real person on the other end of the phone with a contact name you can always reach out to.

Some ISVs and Partners bundle support in to their yearly enhancement fees, while others have hourly support and a la carte support plans. The support model you choose really should depend on the complexity of the solution. For instance, if you are adding on a tool like KTL FastAP, which is a quick installation, there is not much support needed. That is why KTL provides support at no additional charge other than the annual enhancement fee.

A corporate performance management tool like Solver BI360 is a much more complex tool. It is heavily integrated with GP, accesses the SQL database, and can use a Data Warehouse. This tool requires more end user support and training which is why it’s a separate fee to Solver or can be a part of a Support Plan with a Microsoft Certified Partner or VAR.

Local Support

If you are interested in finding a local Microsoft Certified Partner/VAR to support your solution, another factor comes in to play. What is their Partner Channel like? In the Microsoft Dynamics space, most third-party products have a Partner Channel division. This means they are working with Dynamics Partners to sell, implement, and support their products.

Some ISVs allow Dynamics Partners to handle the entire process from sale to implementation and on-going support. Other’s do not allow them to take on implementation services. If you are adamant that you need a local partner to support you, it is important to investigate this from the start of your research on the solution. This actually makes the process much more complicated, as you now have to narrow down an ISV solution and then decide on a local partner to support. Again, Microsoft Certification is of the utmost importance for both of these decisions.

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