How To Select The Right Partners To Maximize Success

Robert Werkema

You’re ready to embark on a digital transformation project. You’ve established a budget and an idea of what you will accomplish through your digital transformation.

Now you must bring in the right outside teams to ensure your success. I recently wrote about blending your technology partner, systems integrator, and internal teams. But how do you select the right partners in the first place?

Selecting a technology partner

Selecting a technology partner is not as easy as it seems. Organizations often start with a list of features and functions they need, which is not necessarily a bad approach. But if you are creating your feature list ahead of your mission statement, there is a chance you will build your feature set without knowing where you are going.

Your selection of a technology partner can help you align both your mission statement and the feature set you will need to accomplish your mission. Using the feature set as the primary lever to evaluate your technology partner can result in missing valuable components that you might not have considered.

Your technology partner should get measured on a few criteria – the weighting of which will vary substantially based on the impact and scope of your project.

Roadmap: If you start with your defined features and functions, you might not get to a point of understanding where a vendor is headed. It is typically a much better approach to ask your vendor to do a roadmap session for you. Don’t forget to look at the product you have an immediate need for, as well as the other areas that might apply to your business. Don’t dig yourself into a dead-end hole that causes integration and functional challenges in the future.

Leadership: Is the partner a stable, ongoing entity? Study their leadership team, and see if they have longevity in the area you care about. Nothing is worse than getting well down the deployment path, only to discover that the product you are deploying is not very strategic to the vendor’s business.

Development: This is hand in hand with both roadmap and leadership, but worth calling out separately. No matter how great the roadmap is, your vendor is going to struggle to get there if they don’t have a focused team on the product you care about. How many people does the vendor have in development? How many of them are aligned to your product?

Flexibility: Some technology partners are good at a single thing, but if you assume that makes them good at everything, you might be in trouble down the road. Does your technology partner have a track record of meeting market demand? One way to look at this is to study some of the major hurdles over the past years, and ask how quickly the vendor was able to respond. Some good examples include the move to cloud computing, delivery of mobile capability, GDPR, and other security compliance. The list is long, but gives you an idea.

Another area of flexibility is the vendor’s technical alignment. Before you look at the business-level features and functions, you should go through an architectural review. You might be surprised at the degree to which the product you are considering is structured to interact in your architecture. A closed architecture can mean you will have more trouble maintaining down the road, and can also cause headaches with integration. Don’t assume that all products are created equal here. Ask questions about integration standards like “does the offering have open APIs, and what standards do they support?” On architecture, when was the last major technology rewrite? Sometimes there are things hidden in the architecture you won’t hear about until you have started down the path.

Support: This is a key topic – and maybe as important as any of the above. IT takes a substantial commitment on the part of a technology vendor to go beyond the sale. When you ask the question about who will support you after the sale, you should hear a concise outline of the non-sales team that will be carrying the responsibility for your success. It can’t be the sales team! They may be great people, but they are measured on selling – not on getting customers live. If the vendor has a customer success team that is measured on the success of customers, survey scores, and customer retention, then you are much more likely to get the attention you need once you sign up. Don’t settle for a lukewarm answer here!

Selecting a systems integrator

Most digital transformation technology vendors have a pretty wide set of systems integrators available to support customers in their transformation efforts. Quantity is not a reflection of quality, though, and you are not looking for many SIs – just the right one to fit your business. The SI will likely have a sales team that is charged with selling the effort, but that team will not be the one actually delivering. The more work you do up front to protect your success, the more likely you will get the on-time and on-budget delivery you are looking for.

There are a few criteria that will help you boil things down to what’s important. The level of importance of these will be different for every project. If you are doing a version upgrade, your SI needs are very different from doing a full-blown transformation of your business.

Certification: You should look at the investment the SI has made in the technology you are considering. Do they have a large bench of certified consultants? Do those consultants cover all of the aspects of your project? Take a look at the resumes of a representative set of consultants from the SI so you can get an idea of if they have people with the right depth of experience.

Once you have gotten a general sense of the capabilities of the SI firm, it is time to get to specific. Make sure you know who the SI team is that will be starting your project. The more of them you meet, the better your chances are that there will be good chemistry between your teams. At the very least, you need to look at all of the resumes and talk to the lead consultant about how long they have worked together. If there is not a lot of prior interlock within the team coming in, you should anticipate that it will take longer to get your project running at full speed.

Focus: What other things are your SI focused on besides the technology you are looking to deploy? This can have a double-edged effect.  Having a partner with skills in future components of your effort can mean a short time to deploy for those phase two and three projects. On the other hand, there are great SIs out there that focus effectively on just one technology.

Scope: Matching the scope of your project with the skills and abilities of your SI is important. There are some SIs that gravitate to large and challenging year-long projects. If your intent is to deliver a quick-strike, Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in a few months, then you should take that into consideration when selecting your SI.

The best approach is to review your scope with the SIs you are feeling most comfortable with and let them come back with recommendations for the project. This is a chance for the SI to show their stuff.

Demo: Often overlooked is asking the SI to show their knowledge by demoing the product and talking about the fit to your business. It will give two great insights. First, you will find out how much they really know about the product, and second, you will hear how well they have been listening to you.

References: Companies often ask for references, but how you ask for them and what you do with them can vary widely. Every SI is going to have two or three good references. It is to your benefit to ask for a list of all customers who had projects like yours and make a few calls to look for consistency of the SI’s delivery abilities. I also like to ask SIs to talk about a project where things went wrong. How the SI approached the resolution can give great insight into the way that SI will work when things get tough.

Longevity: Get a perspective of how many of the SI’s customers came back for second and third deployments. You can’t afford to have an SI that has consistent delivery issues and does not get follow-on business from customers.

When evaluating your SI choices, you should consider both chemistry and the hard evidence of success. A great SI can make your transformation effort hugely successful.

Uncertainty is here to stay. By imagining multiple destinies and working back to the present, you can prepare for anything. That’s Why Strategic Plans Need Multiple Futures.

This article originally appeared in the Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce, and is republished by permission.