In today's agile world where moving fast makes the difference between business success and getting left behind, CIOs and IT decision makers require technology vendors that will become true partners - collaborating together towards a common goal rather than a one-way customer-vendor relationship. But the vendor landscape is rife with options: so what steps can help ensure that your enterprise identifies the right partners?
The rewards can pay dividends: mutually beneficial partnerships where CIOs can deliver products, services, and operations better and faster, while vendors benefit by enjoying better, long-standing relationships and increased loyalty.
That loyalty is important within the CIO community, where positive feedback - which often travels by word of mouth – plays a role in how CIOs evaluate current and prospective vendor partnerships. One CIO.co.uk survey revealed that IT leaders overwhelmingly rely on the experiences of their peers as the most important source of information and advice. The majority - 53 percent of those surveyed in the CIO 100 - would approach their fellows first; their next-best source of information was from other IT executives over analysts, media, or consultants.
Businesses will explore all the options at hand, and price is rarely the paramount factor. Enterprises will favour partners that work closely with their organisations to manage, develop and deploy solutions that best serve their own customers and causes, whether these are internal or consumer-facing.
The consequences of rushing in to partner selection could be anything from limiting business value, to higher-impact issues such as costly licensing, bloated infrastructure, and vendor lock-in, potentially leading to sky-high bills - or large re-engineering jobs to redress the imbalance.
First things first
Decision-makers have more information at their fingertips than ever before. Resources such as whitepapers, conferences, blogs, networking events, and social media provide ample opportunity to learn from peers, communicate about common issues, and stress-test potential hurdles. Even better, they're often free.
Jason James, CIO for Optima Healthcare Solutions, points towards those trusted peers as a golden source of truth: "CIOs needing a recommendation for technical partners should reach out to other CIOs and technical leaders they know and trust. I've found that many CIOs are very open and candid about which of their vendors have reached the status of 'trusted partner' through successful delivery of solutions."
An invaluable first step, then, is establishing that group of "brilliant and trusted CIOs," as Mike Kail, CTO at Everest, puts it. Social media is an effective path into finding those people, Kail says: "Many of them participate in the weekly #CIOchat on Twitter. That is a source of knowledge. Ask them how they're solving the same or similar problems that you're facing - then meet with a few of the partners they recommend."
Ryan Fay, CIO at ACI Speciality Benefits, agrees - noting that a strategy-minded CIO will sound out their organisation's blind spots before interviewing early to fill those gaps. While it's advisable to sound out your peers, it's absolutely necessary to have clarity on your own business requirements and needs.
There are concrete steps that can be taken to establish a roadmap for discovering the appropriate technology partners for your business. For example, consulting employees at the coal-face of your organisation can help to locate potential pain-points. Keeping questions such as 'will this scale?' and 'how will this integrate with our existing systems?' front and centre should also help shed light on whether the potential partner will align well with your goals, objectives, and capabilities.
What does success look like?
There is no cut and dry formula that will work for every business. Each success story will look a little bit different, however, there are some steps that will be effective for most firms.
Initiating pilot projects will provide tangible real-world data that you can work with, as well as creating an opportunity to learn how well teams work between organisations.
Signs that you're on the right track may include your team being able to focus more on delivering the projects that matter rather than solely keeping the lights on - and, crucially, that there is a give-and-take between both sides of the partnership.
On-boarding a specialist to run infrastructure, operations, or otherwise essential - but potentially laborious - tasks can provide significant value, allowing firms to instead focus on strategy, building, and innovating.
"A successful partnership will free up your internal teams' time to focus on the core competencies that differentiate your business from the competitors, allowing your team to spend more time on innovation versus preservation," adds ACI Speciality Benefits' Global CIO Ryan Fay. "The best partnerships will eventually become part of your internal teams, and will begin to make proactive recommendations to help your business drive revenue, increase time-to-market, and find new business opportunities globally."
The best partners, adds CIO at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Tom Catalini, will have "great people, process, and technology".
"They have a team that is professional, responsive, and great at communication," he says. "They deliver high-quality solutions by using a methodology that is robust and flexible - and their technology is both built on a solid foundation and evolving because they continuously invest in it."
Furthermore, they will have a clear understanding of your business - as Tim Grieveson, CIO, CISO and Managing Director of CyberCiso Security Limited points out - and know what is required from each party.
"Before entering a partnership, the CIO should ensure that the prospective technology partner has done their research" Grieveson says. "They should ask themselves when being presented to: do they know the business? The partner and CIO should ensure that they are open and transparent from initial discussions. On the CIO's part, they should be prepared, know what they want from a technology partner, and what their businesses' goals are”.
"The partner should spend the time to listen and understand, and most importantly, they should be honest when it comes to what they can and can't deliver. This collaboration is more likely to build a strategic relationship: one with trust, integrity, and reliability."
To 'digitally transform' will mean different things to different organisations. Although open to interpretation, at its core there are certain points that can be agreed on: bringing legacy businesses into the age of cloud computing and hybrid IT; creating resilient networks of flexible, adaptable and interoperable systems that enable business agility.
Failing fast, delivering software and services quicker, and the visibility to know exactly what you're running and where within your full estate - and to react with speed to problems that emerge.
Today, says Global CISO at OVH, Stéphane Nappo, successful digital transformation initiatives lie in strategy and partnership quality over pure-play technology. To find the right partner with the traditional cost versus performance metric could be a "choice under uncertainty".
It is up to CIOs, along with the CTO's office and other IT decision makers, to forecast technology trends - and the roles these are likely to play within the future of their businesses. Drawing opportunities from a clear-headed analysis of your current IT estate will help to match potential partners with equally forward-looking strategy.
A "truly strategic CIO," says Ludmila Morozova-Buss, Capitol Technology University Ph.D in Technology Research, will base their decisions on "cutting-edge knowledge and analytics" along with the nous to bring forth a "constellation" approach to connectivity - in other words, drawing from all the latest greatest technology tools such as those at the forefront of machine learning, AI, IoT and robotic process automation.
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