“Banana, who?” Most of us have experienced the fun — and sometimes frustration — of knock-knock jokes. This past weekend, I observed some folks in a group telling their favorites. I saw that the best jokes ended with the recipient being a little surprised about who was at the proverbial door. That got me thinking this morning about who is at our door as we look to select the right partners while managing an uncertain economic future. Some of the answers, much like a good knock-knock joke, might surprise you.
Choices and More Choices: More Partner Models Appear Annually
Analyst Jay McBain’s recent Canalys report makes clear that the choices for end-user firms looking for technology solutions have never been more complicated. Check out this chart below, which offers a great idea of the level of complexity in the technology ecosystem.
As technology has become more integrated into our businesses and more critical to their survival, we’ve seen a partner explosion. For enterprises looking to up their technology game, this explosion is both good and bad. On the good side, the partner explosion means more bespoke support and technical prowess, which in turn enables new business models and technological advances that go beyond “business as usual.” On the bad side, all of these partner choices lead to more complex processes to get the right partners.
It could be that you find great partners lurking in other parts of your business. As an example, many Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firms offer technology cost-management and evaluation services. The firms avoid a conflict of interest because they don’t sell that technology, making them a great resource to ensure your money is being spent wisely. Another great potential partner is legal firms. Many business law firms now offer security services up to and including risk mitigation and cyber insurance support.
The key to managing such a talented but crowded technology provider pool is a new approach to partner identification and selection as well as to the ultimate procurement path that follows.
Getting Organized in Selection: Letting the Right Partners in the Door
Let’s face it, sometimes we get lazy about partnering. It seems easier to just use the partner we have always used for technology rather than answering the knock on the door from new partners. But in our current environment, we can’t afford this approach. Many legacy technology partners, while good for basic information technology (IT) support, can’t meet the enterprise’s growing need for digital experiences, automation, artificial intelligence, and everything-as-a-service. These newer business-focused technologies often require enterprises to not only identify gaps in their competencies whereby they will need outsourced help, but also a process to meet and downselect new partners who can provide these services.
The first thing is to realize that the pure procurement plays of the past to outsource technology support simply won’t work in our new, more complicated ecosystem reality. A complete change in how you identify the best options for partnering is necessary now. Starting with the Canalys bubble chart above, think about which types of firms might help with your most pressing technology needs. It’s likely not just the legacy Value Added Reseller (VAR) or Managed Service Provider (MSP) that handles your IT needs today. It’s more likely to be a combination of that partner and a few other partner types bringing experiences to the table.
Don’t worry about upsetting or insulting your VAR or MSP — they are getting increasingly used to working with other partners to ensure full coverage of the technology spectrum. In fact, there are even software solutions like PartnerTap that have popped up to help partners work with other partners to ensure full solutions are offered and implemented to enterprise customers. Holding partner summits or partner meet-ups much like you would for any new group of business relationships (think investor funding) is a great way to quickly downselect some potential partners.
Join us on April 20, 2023, for Partners Ecosystem Digital Summit, a digital event analyzing the business and IT imperatives around cloud, AI, automation, and cybersecurity ecosystems that define the future of partnerships.
Picking the Best: It’s All About the Process
Next, determine how you will select the right partners by category to interview for consideration as a partner and ultimately onboard. I highly recommend developing and using a simple partner scorecard that measures your most critical elements for partnering. This can be a great project for an intern or new hire to learn and apply. Some elements on your scorecard could include:
- Technical competencies, certifications, or customer use cases/references
- Solution readiness
- Geographic fit as needed based on support models
- Implementation expertise
- Support expertise
- Industry experience
- Security measures and competency
- Return on investment (ROI) metrics
- And a host of others that may matter to your business
Be transparent with partners about how you are measuring their potential impact on your business and what elements would disqualify them immediately from partnering with your firm. (Security is a good example of a disqualifying element!)
Note that I did not include the price in my scorecard — that is reserved for when you downselect partners who could be capable of helping your firm by project or by scope versus when you are selecting partners who have the potential to help.
In everything you do, the key is to slow down to speed up when partnering. By taking your time to identify and select the right partners, your future technology projects will have the resources and expertise to hit your goals ahead of schedule and with the right solutions. Enjoy the process.
As always, happy partnering.
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