04/02/2020

How to choose the right digital transformation partner

Piruza Harutjunjan, Partner at Proekspert

The key to success in digital transformation, as with any other commitment, is the partner you choose.

It’s true that digitally transforming your business can drastically change your product or service by exploring new ways of identifying the business challenge, elevating customer interaction and speeding up the market validation. But the key to success in digital transformation, as with any other commitment, is the partner you choose.

Digital transformation is the single most used buzzword in business right now.  Everyone is urging you to jump on board the DT ship and sail to the land of profit, product potential, and increased customer satisfaction. 

But the key to success in digital transformation, as with any other commitment, is the partner you choose. In a world of great marketers and beautiful stories, it is extremely hard to see beyond the promises and determine the best fit for your company. 

I have worked in business development for most of my professional life, interacting with clients from a variety of sectors and industries. The projects I’ve worked on include making a more intelligent and accurate thermostat, producing a more personable cruise experience, increasing the speed and ensuring the security of financial transactions, or building a coffee machine that could perform its own maintenance. The majority of these cases involved more than 30 stakeholders, a geographically scattered development team, and extremely strict business limitations.

Very often, we take over cases that previous partners failed to deliver. The majority of failing initiatives have one thing in common – the mismatch of product development partners involved. It is not because of a lack of companies offering the needed services – it’s because validating the most suitable organizations to partner with is challenging.

This article will help you in your quest to find the best digital transformation partner for your projects and initiatives. 

You

Every great partnership starts with YOU!

Take your time to clearly understand what is it that you want to do. 

What are the main challenges? 

Identify the project setup and define your needs.

Do you need to:

  • develop a connected product portfolio?
  • apply data analytics for internal processes optimization?
  • build a long term digital roadmap? 
  • validate current pain points and find ways to solve them?
  • speed up the product development process?
  • increase customer satisfaction? 
  • strengthen your market position? 
  • fly to sunny Tallinn to meet with Proekspert?

There’s only one reason to meet with a potential partner before the need is identified: when you’ve turned to a high-level business consultancy with the intent to figure out where to go and what to do. However, if your intent for the meeting is to start cooperation and transformation from “somewhere, somehow,” then the meeting will be a waste of time and money for both parties. 

Once you know what you want, it is time to address the “whys” and “hows”? 

Why exactly do you need a partner? 

Define your priorities.

It is very important to assess your in-house potential: be aware of what you already have in your company and what kind of partnership you need.

  • Do you lack skills?
  • Do you need a team extension? 
  • Do you want to accelerate your time to market?

Only in this way you can find the best fit with a partner. Every situation is different. If you are looking to extend your team, you need to search for companies that have a compatible working culture and skill stack. If you outsource an entire team to compensate for missing skills, you can select a company that works very differently from yours. If your goal is to find a strategic partner, then finding an organization with strong knowledge of your business domain is as important as your partner’s relevant tech stack capability.

Getting to know your partner is also an investment. In my experience companies consider product development costs, because they’re the most obvious costs and are routinely calculated. But additional considerations are potential costs related to time and money invested to establish, test, and develop the partnership. These are critical for long term cooperation and sometimes get overlooked or underestimated. 

Communication

It is important to ask questions and clearly communicate your needs and expectations. Remember that both of you want the partnership to be beneficial for one another and for that you must be fully aligned.

Ask your potential partner to walk you through the onboarding process as if you were already a customer. This will give you a clear perspective on the ways your partner works and whether it corresponds to your vision.

Make sure you ask how the partner sees the alignment and synchronization process. The process should be documented, at least in the form of an email. 

  • Agree on the level of involvement and responsibility in the project for both sides.
  • If there are conflicting time-zones, discuss how will the partner tackle that issue?
  • Ask questions about the product development process and the availability of teams.

Some companies might have team CVs. This might accelerate your process significantly. A partner who has a standing team ready to take over is your way of beating your competitors with a faster ready-to-market product. If there are no available teams, look for a concrete and realistic time period that one can be assembled and ready to work.

Despite the fact that these questions seem very secondary, by addressing them early on you will make the parter validation process much more efficient.  Don’t figure it out on the go. Any potential partner who suggests doing it on the fly may cause you to get stuck in the endless loop of “figuring things out” before moving on to tangible progress.

Approach

The way your potential partner approaches digital transformation is crucial – it’s about mindset. A step-by-step approach consisting of short outlined iterations based on your strategic business priorities works best. Start with the most critical problem to be solved, even if it has nothing to do with what is commonly considered “digital transformation.”

Transformation involves many shapes and forms; don’t get stuck on tech. Maybe there are significant operational problems preventing you from successfully undertaking digital transformation. Solve those first. Digital transformation is not about tech, it is not about trends it is about you, your business challenges, and goals. 

References

Everyone requires and pays attention to references. But make sure you are looking at the right things. 

Pay attention to personal references, not only marketing-generated case studies. Doing business is personal. Transforming your product or service is even more personal. 

You want to work with companies that not only deliver but are pleasant to work with. The process of digital transformation is full of risks and stress, so make sure you choose to go through it with a company with an empathetic way of working – one who sees more than a business and focuses on people and customers. 

Red flags

Red flags are visible early on.

Take note if people present at the negotiations are not the ones who will handle the partnership. This could lead to future complications in strategic alignment, as well as a major loss in time and money. 

“Too fast – too big.”  Look out for huge commitments early on from both sides. There should always be an opportunity to test the partnership first. Take time to evaluate your work together. This will reduce the risk of committing to the “wrong” partnership and losing your market position due to major delays and inadequate investment. 

Avoid long-term milestones. Build your cooperation so there will be visible developments within two to three months. Otherwise, you become vulnerable to moving in the wrong direction and spending too much time and money on a product or development that will bring no value for your business. 

Don’t let yourself be too dependent on your partner. Have an exit strategy.

First meeting

The first meeting is often underrated. In order to get the most out of it:

  • Meet face to face. Take time to meet with the potential partner/client personally. 
  • Discuss the key points of the partnership, address main concerns, and share your expectations. 
  • Involve as many stakeholders with decision making power as possible.

Half of the above-mentioned ideas involve you, and half concern the commitments of your business partner. A partnership goes both ways; it has to be balanced. If you choose thoroughly and communicate clearly, the probability of a win-win outcome is significantly higher. Once the relationship reaches a point of a fruitful partnership, you can contribute to the further development of your partner by exploring other ways you can be useful to one another. If something works already, why not learn and develop further together? A great way to show your recognition of the work is by giving your personal reference as a strong sign of your satisfaction, which might help your partner to further leverage their business. 

The most important thing about digital transformation is to start by partnering with the most well-suited organization!

What do you look for and pay attention to most when choosing a potential business partner? 


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