How IT Partnerships are Made Perfect

Two hands holding pieces of a puzzle and putting them together

For any organization wishing to outsource all aspects of IT to one vendor, meaning from procurement to support at the help desk, at the desktop, and with the infrastructure to end of lifecycle services, the choice is often between a large OEM or software corporation and a vendor with established, strategic IT partnerships. Either way, the goal is to access an all-encompassing solution. That means clients gain a team of certified, highly technical resources and IT operational expertise that becomes an extension of their own organization without having to make those investments internally.

While the corporate approach is to be all things to all customers, even some Fortune 500 banners may be flying at offshore locations that aren’t necessarily the same legal entity.   White labeling is nothing to hide behind and in many cases, a shared operational identity is expedient either with partners or a client’s internal IT department.  However, when a distinction between these entities arises due to legitimate service quality issues, the association is more a hindrance than a help.  Or if the client is forced to choose from a few rigidly defined and packaged solutions, being covered by the corporate umbrella won’t keep clients out of the rain.  The primary purpose of a strategic IT partnership is to take advantage of each organization’s strengths and align with the client’s scope requirements on a granular level, not to cut corners.

Strategic partners know how to delineate responsibilities regardless of whether or not they may compete on some components of the complete service offering. For example, help desk related Subject Matter Expertise may be identical with both (i.e. comparable employee skills sets, compatible knowledge bases, and similar industry best practices and processes ), but one may not have the full-time coverage necessary to accommodate a client’s 24 x 7 requirements. Or one partner may specialize in hardware sales but is lacking in support. One may have a broad global footprint for on-site desktop support resources but may not have a remote call center to field, triage, and resolve incidents or the ITSM platform to track them. Some partners invest heavily in their Network Operations Center (NOC) on a scale that rivals NORAD in terms of command center technology, staffing, and security. As a consequence, Level 1 help desk support and troubleshooting access, connectivity and application issues may be less of a priority.

The symbiosis often works the same way with an IT partner as it would with a client’s internal IT staff. One party bridges the support gaps in places where either the resources or expertise are lacking or where it isn’t cost effective to fill those gaps internally. As with any mutually beneficial relationship, there is an element of co-dependence where combined services, personnel, and technology offer a complete solution attractive to clients who want a one-stop shop regardless of whether or not everything on the shelf comes from one source. Contractually the client’s relationship is with one legal entity; however, both partners are bound to the same terms and services levels.  The partner acting as a subcontractor must establish identical terms and service levels with the primary and avoid any disconnect in those operational performance parameters.  In other words, if the primary vendor is contractually obligated to an 80% First Contact Resolution rate, there would be a serious deficit in client expectations if the subcontracting party only agreed to a 70% FCR.

Challenges

While the benefits of joining complementary forces are many, there can be just as many obstacles to overcome early in the relationship. In some instances, the primary partner may not pass through the secondary’s proposal and price the offering out of the market with added margins. At least initially, there may be a tendency to commoditize or trivialize the other partner’s service, assume all competitor solutions are identical and differentiate solely on a price transactional basis. A value-added partner assists in a consultative approach offers collaborative solution-building and educates potential clients on operations, organizational structure and key deliverables.

To overcome and even avoid some of these challenges, here are some key elements of a successful partnership approach:

  • Communication is important at every stage of a partnership, especially at the outset. Both parties must feel comfortable expressing opinions, exchanging ideas, and defining expectations.
  • Likewise, both should outline expectations for the prospective client including all operational scenarios and how each will interact with them.
  • Successful partners clearly establish roles of key personnel based on their skills, experience, and customer-facing area of responsibility. This will eliminate gaps, overlaps, and clearly identify the chain of command in reporting for all partner personnel.
  • Both should be transparent and follow coherent, seamless processes with the end customer. It is important that partners display a unified front. Any disagreements should be ironed out behind the scenes.
  • Ideal partnerships thrive on professional courtesy and an equal say including the ability to withdraw from negotiations if the opportunity isn’t a good fit.
  • Both have shared fiscal responsibility to assure profits and/or expenses are fairly allocated.

To build the ideal relationship, organizations wishing to combine efforts in the solution architect realm must adopt some form of these best practices that make partnerships perfect.