An organization’s choice of partner should be driven by the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces:
a) The organization’s capabilities and assets
b) The business objectives, values and aspirations, and
c) Available options and realities in the market place
One needs to fit together the below three important puzzle pieces while selecting a partner.
To choose a Partner who can deliver faster, cost-effective and better services, one has to look at the following critical factors that determine success of a partnership.
Fit for Size – Big is not always better
The ‘one size fits all’ paradigm is a myth when it comes to Remote Infrastructure Management (RIM). Every partner will have their own sweet spot. While large partners can bring the benefits of scale and Global Delivery Model (GDM), nimble players offer flexibility, agility and customization, which cannot be matched by their larger peers.
Smaller partners are often more inclined to invest in partnerships and adopt ‘Customer for Life’ philosophy. Hence it is important to select a partner whose capability matches with the size of engagement planned. One has to adopt “horses for courses” approach and choose based on cultural fit and ability to bring in the desired focus for the size of operations which is outsourced. Most importantly don’t get swayed by size; just check if you are looking at a dinosaur, big in size or a cheetah, known for speed and agility.
Innovation and Digitization
Beyond the obvious benefit of cost savings, automation and digitization also minimizes the element of human error in IT operations. Hence, it is a clear differentiator while evaluating RIM partner capability. While evaluating this aspect, we need to look for relevant and RIM-specific tools and digitization initiatives rather than giving importance to high end or companywide innovation initiatives.
Look for partners who have tools which offer most of the commonly used functionalities at a fraction of cost when compared to traditional Tier-1 enterprise tools. Map the tool features using the following 2 x 2 matrix and adopt those partners who have 80:20 tools philosophy i.e. 80% of features at 20% cost. Ease of implementing and customizing the tool is also a critical factor since needs are often changing and unclear upfront. It emerges and gets shaped as you grow and as the world changes.
POCs and Pilots
It is very important not to get carried away by the sales pitch in a PowerPoint presentation. We should gather a lot of information on possible partners from the public domain and insist on demonstration of the said features and benefits through Proof of Concept (PoC) implementations and pilots. This will help in getting the comfort of WYSIWYG – What You See is What You Get.
Partners with end-to-end capabilities will have a holistic view of dependencies and business impact of the technology managed by them. Most vendors have a similar portfolio of services. It is prudent to look at the offerings taxonomy and check whether they have ‘all-in-a-box’ point solutions for specific challenges/pain areas you are looking for, for example, DevTest environment Management in a box or Database Drift Management.
Quality and Knowledge Management
Industry and process accreditations have ceased to be a differentiator for IT organizations, as it has become the norm. It is important to check the partner’s commitment to business excellence. Choose partners with leaders who have a strong belief and can drive quadrant-2 initiatives such as Quality and Knowledge Management passionately.
Shortlist those who have implemented Malcolm Baldridge or similar business excellence models, which emphasizes the significance of balanced scorecard and lead measures related to People, Process and Customer satisfaction. Implementation evidence of continuous improvement frameworks and methodologies, such as Six Sigma, is an added advantage.
Transparency and Outcome based Models
Mature partner organizations are capable of bringing transparency into IT management metrics. Look for partners who can give you a business impact analysis and are able to map the business applications with underlying infrastructure, and offer service levels based on criticality and differentiated packaged solutions.
A truly transparent partner will be able to give customers an online dashboard with visibility of the same metrics as the partner organization. Traditionally, Infrastructure Management Operations has been a black box, incurring cost without visible impact on business outcomes. A SLA-based approach and outcome-based pricing models ensure that the RIM costs have a strong positive correlation with business impact and outcomes.
Skill availability is a critical issue for CIOs and technology managers across industries. Look for partners who have a mature “Skills Manufacturing Belt” with the ability to transform high potential campus hires into technology practitioners. In addition to this, one has to look for partners who have capabilities to bring in multi-skilled and cross-skilled resources in line with the desired efficiencies. Rather than an “inch wide-mile deep” skills approach one has to cultivate expertise in a couple of technologies and level-1 skills in multiple skills. This helps resources to get a larger perspective and deliver quicker problem resolution.
Often, retention metrics are put forward to highlight talent engagement effectiveness. It is important not to be swayed by attrition numbers alone and one needs to probe further to understand the employee engagement initiatives. Since RIM requires a wide spectrum of skills it is critical to bring in a sense of community among like-minded individuals with a similar expertise. Initiatives like “Community of Practice,” which provide shared context to associates helps to capture and diffuse existing knowledge and stimulate learning by collaboration. The talent engagement initiatives should create an extremely friendly but also fiercely competitive environment and help engage, excite and transform people.
To summarize, extent of coupling between client’s current maturity, its business objectives and partner capability defines success in RIM engagements. Ability to find the right partner can potentially be the difference between success and failure in IT transformation initiatives. Adopting the Zen-like eight fold path, and skillfully evaluating partners will definitely lead you to outsourcing Nirvana!
L Shekar is Vice President & Global Head of Syntel’s Infrastructure Management Services, a...