Strategic Partnerships in an Agile World
Bryan Towne, Sr. Application Development Manager, discusses the advantages of strategic partnership in this fast moving technical landscape. You should expect more. Here’s why.
What is a strategic partner? In the course of my professional career I have had interactions with customers of all types. Some were small, independent software vendors (ISVs) and some were large enterprise customers. At times, these environments were mature in process and strategy. Other times, the environments felt like an exercise in firefighting and damage mitigation. In all cases, what set each apart in terms of success was the ability to leverage strategic partnerships.
Occasionally, the leadership of a company wisely establishes a partnership for an advantage it can bring to the business and yet, the full value of this partnership is not always achieved. Why? What sets the companies apart that gain more market share or lower costs from those that do not? Successful partnerships use the relationship to define a clear strategy that builds on strengths and fills in gaps.
It’s important to occasionally ask the question, “what business do we want to be in?” With rapid innovation and fierce competition, It’s unreasonable to think that every challenge a company faces is achievable on its own. For example, a Service Provider may depend on a multitude of technologies, but leverage a Technology Company to help so they can focus on activities that are core to a business strategy. The alternative might be to also become a Technology Company, but risk losing the focus and agility needed to retain and grow a market by focusing on too many things. While it is sometimes advantageous to control all aspects of a business, it can be difficult to scale. As an example, a teammate of mine has a customer who gains growth by acquiring companies to its portfolio, but they suffer from constantly merging those assets without ever looking at simple partnering alternatives. This leaves very little flexibility for attaining business objectives when solutions always have to come from within.
I have seen first-hand examples of companies using a partnership to exponentially increase application capacity and concurrency. These companies were able to respond to challenges, turn around customers, and generate new business. They enjoyed the success of reporting to leadership that the engagement gained 10x return on its investment, all while publically announcing this new potential. Like any strategic partnership, the return was tangible on both sides. A clear strategy that built on strengths and identified gaps together resulted in a plan they could execute on. To contrast, failed partnerships frequently operate in a mode where there is a lack of trust, communication, and little opportunity to build on collective strengths. Those reactive or “insurance policy” type partnerships, are often considered a cost center where only uptime or problem avoidance is valued.
When a leadership decision to drive agile business strategy emerges, it usually brings with it a risk of resource availability and creates a significant knowledge gap. When it comes to building new and innovative applications, companies are often faced with solving this through staff augmentation or a “buy versus build” strategy. Long term, this approach is not always sustainable. We have established that going out on your own can be risky and when used properly, partners can assist companies with being successful at growing market share and quickly responding to business needs.
As an Application Development Manager (ADM) my main focus is to work on strategic initiatives that yield my customer the highest return. I don’t receive any incentive from, for example, putting your team into a training workshop or selling solutions, so this guides my efforts to work toward your business objectives. My goal is to propose the best suited Microsoft services to achieve your goals whether that means a one-hour phone advisory to a four-week multi-stage engagement. This core principle ensures engagements do not need to be hard hitting on budgets to achieve results. ADM’s can help assess with ongoing strategic conversations, “teach them to fish” scenarios, or whatever helps a team bring their best work forward. While I always enjoy being that resource who helped a partner build something awesome (that’s the developer in me), it’s just as rewarding to bring your team the knowledge transfer on a new technology essential for the next iteration of an application.
The difference to a service provider and a strategic partner really comes down to the tone of the relationship. A strategic partnership is established on trust, built on strengths, and must open and honest when it comes to gaps and needs. As an ADM, I can inquire on your projects all day long, but we both cannot be successful until the right engagement fits the right need and delivers business results.