In the digital age, customers of all shapes and sizes must wrestle with buying and using technology in their business. It’s easy to imagine that contracting ‘everything as a service’ can make the inevitable pain involved disappear, leaving all the heavy lifting to a technology vendor and the customer on cloud nine.

Understand your business

The problem is: no technology service provider can completely understand your business to the extent that they can drive it forward on your behalf.

Rare are the business leaders that understand the technical complexity and rapidly changing nature of today’s technology landscape that they know exactly what to ask of their service providers.

Certainly, most businesses have a technology strategy; and a prospective technology vendor that’s serious about winning business will have an account plan and a product roadmap to share. If either stepped through the proverbial looking glass to see the other’s perspective, however, they would each gain a vastly different picture.

What’s in your technology strategy?

  • A list of your immediate priorities to solve urgent business and technical problems, with a vague idea of how technology will enable achievement of longer-term objectives.
  • The outline of your target ICT architecture intended to support the business, but with no clear idea of where each piece will come from or how they will fit together over time.
  • Key areas of emerging technology mapped onto a strategic ‘radar screen’, highlighting threats and opportunities, that you may know the acronyms for but don’t fully appreciate the likely impacts upon your business and customers.

What a technology service provider sees in your strategy

  • An ICT budget that can help its sales team achieve ever-increasing revenue targets in the current year, without a clear idea of how they will support the business’ future success.
  • A raft of individual opportunities to be pursued across multiple parts of IT and the business—with dedicated commercial zeal and a clear sense of urgency—whether or not they form a cohesive whole.
  • A complex organisational structure within which senior customer executives hold an array of oft-competing priorities, with no clear process to resolve how a vendor should best engage.

Client-service provider partnerships

At Fujitsu we’re seeing many of our key customers rapidly become technology businesses. From Australia Post building its Trusted Services capability, Qantas’ ongoing digitisation of the travel experience to the array of technology-enabled shopping options Woolworths is delivering at home, online, in store or even in your car.

For these customers, a good client-service relationship, in which we consistently deliver against service-level agreements and steadily improve performance over time, is no longer sufficient.

Digital transformation

I believe successful digital transformation demands that customers and their technology service-providers hold a clear picture of how each other’s business works and create a shared blueprint of how technology innovation can enable them to succeed together. Enduring success for technology-enabled businesses—both customers and their technology service-providers—must be based on trusted, performance-driven partnerships.

This is not an idealistic prescription for a warm and fuzzy relationship nirvana.

Rather, it is a transparent relationship built on shared purpose and values, commitment to stand for each other’s success, gritty determination to deliver on mutually agreed expectations and the courage to hold each other accountable to do so.

Building credibility

Of course, these relationships require time and hard work: building credibility in each other’s expertise, understanding their respective cultures, governance and strategy of both organisations, and being open and intelligent about identifying, owning and co-managing the risks and rewards of innovation efforts. Getting to know your customer’s customers is a fundamental requirement, too. However, in a digital world where no business can succeed on its own, these trusted, performance-driven partnerships are critical.

One upside we’re observing is that, in our most mature customer relationships, we’re developing go-to-market strategies to take innovative, joined-up value propositions to our respective customer bases and the world at large. This does not mean we can take our eye off the ball in terms of day-to-day service provision. What it does mean is that we can convert the substantial ‘sweat equity’ we have co-invested in our client partnerships into additional revenue streams and business opportunity for both parties.

The days of master-servant, client-vendor arrangements are gone. The good news is that the IQ, EQ and CQ (creative intelligence) it takes to build peer-to-peer, performance-driven partnerships makes the journey a demanding yet rewarding and enjoyable experience—for those who succeed.