At a recent conference I attended, a moderator asked a panel of business executives how technology vendors could better support their initiatives. It was a fair question, but it only addressed one side of the equation. The other, equally important question, comes from the vendor’s perspective: “What can customers do to help their technology suppliers succeed?” After all, a productive partnership is a two-way street.
I happen to work in the energy business, where my company helps energy service providers connect and manage their assets through the internet of things. But the symbiotic relationship between businesses and their technology partners is common to every industry. Companies worldwide are in a race to achieve digital transformation, lest they fall short of customer expectations and fall behind competitors. When they work with technology partners, I believe their success hinges on efficient collaboration with the technology suppliers and consultants who help them streamline their operations, launch exciting new products and services, and stay relevant in an increasingly tech-driven world. Yet despite the pressure to “get technology right,” important projects are too often delayed or completely derailed — not because of some insurmountable technical challenge, but due to poor planning and miscommunication.
In other words, there’s a lot of time and effort being wasted out there. The good news is, most of these problems are preventable.
Urgency Isn’t Everything
The energy industry provides a good case study for how and why these collaborative breakdowns occur. Energy is a mature business sector that’s undergoing significant disruption at multiple levels, and traditional energy providers are enlisting technology partners to help them upgrade their energy networks, collect and process vast amounts of data, and optimize service delivery. These improvements require a host of supporting technology projects to be carried out with speed and precision.
So why is it that so many of these critical projects fail to get off the ground, regardless of industry? There’s no simple explanation, but in my experience, it’s a combination of factors that amounts to putting the cart before the horse. In their enthusiasm to make progress, customers often have a tendency to forge ahead without fully considering all the requirements for a productive partnership that gets results. Ironically, they find themselves mired in red tape and indecision down the road.
Five Ways To Work Better Together
After working through these challenges with multiple energy service providers, and through hindsight gleaned from other vendors as well, I’ve learned a few “secrets” about how to start projects off on the right foot and keep them on track. Here are five ways energy companies — and, for that matter, any companies embarking on a critical tech project — can work more productively with their technology partners.
1. Start with a clear vision. Set objectives in quantifiable terms that define exactly what the project should accomplish. Eliminate gray areas that could be interpreted differently by the company and its partners.
2. Involve leadership early. Bad things can happen when executives are surprised to learn an important project is underway without their input and approval. Gain the support of senior leaders before engaging a third party to pave the way for technology partners to do what they do best.
3. Stay disciplined. As the project begins, get mutual agreement on the process, cadence, and timelines to govern your work with the partner company. If you don’t have a documented commitment from both sides to keep things moving, time tends to slip away.
4. Engage your stakeholders. Technology projects rarely exist in a vacuum; other parts of the business will be impacted by the changes. Giving those functional leaders a seat at the table from the beginning can prevent pushback and lead to more informed decision making.
5. Communicate transparently. Make sure your technology partners know the backstory, challenges and expectations for the project. And don’t keep them in the dark when new issues arise. To do their best work, they need to know what you know.
While these guidelines may seem obvious, my experience suggests they aren’t consistently followed. Competing priorities, ambiguity and business politics can spoil even the most promising projects. But in a time when companies must often either digitally transform or face obsolescence, building productive working relationships with their technology partners may be the most important project of all.