Turnkey services. End-to-end solutions. A one-stop shop! We’ve all heard the buzzwords. In nearly every business-to-business industry, and especially in the technology world, vendors are quick to tout their unique ability to handle a customer’s entire project from start to finish, no matter how complex and wide-reaching the scope of work may be.
On the surface, it sounds great. What customer wouldn’t want to simplify their project by getting everything they need from a single provider? Unfortunately, the perceived convenience of the one-vendor approach rarely works out well – not for the customers, and not for the providers who bite off more than they can chew. Unlike a trip to Wal-Mart, where you can grab bananas, motor oil and a kayak under one roof, major technology implementations are complicated business endeavors requiring specialized expertise in an array of applications and equipment. A technology partner that is a jack of all trades but a master of none will usually fail to deliver a satisfactory result.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen this problem play out multiple times with large RFPs in the energy industry. Technology providers compete with each other to claim the whole lucrative project for themselves, though none of them are truly suited to deliver on all of the requirements.
There is a better way, and it involves multiple technology vendors working together as partners. Through a robust, diverse and active partnership ecosystem, technology suppliers can win more business, lower their costs, and get better results for their customers.
How the ‘winner takes all’ approach fails
Allow me to describe a hypothetical scenario that further illustrates the issue. A large company puts out an RFP for a comprehensive IoT solution to help it manage energy usage throughout its expansive real estate portfolio. One ambitious vendor, which is known for its leadership in energy analytics software, promises the moon and wins the entire contract. The trouble starts when the work shifts away from software and into building the IoT network required to harvest the necessary data. Far outside of the software provider’s comfort zone, the networking piece of the contract becomes a necessary evil, something they must “figure out along the way.” In an effort to keep the customer’s trust, they throw money and manpower at the networking problem, which inevitably delays the project outcomes, inflates the budget, and results in an inferior solution. The customer ends up unhappy. The supplier’s reputation is tarnished.
While the details here were fabricated, this type of over-promising and under-delivering is all too common in the energy industry. And it benefits no one.
Why partnerships prevail
Partnership programs aim to prevent situations like the one I just described, and when the program is well-organized, technology vendors and their customers come away winners.
The advantage of partnerships can be conveyed as a combination of lower costs and higher-quality outcomes. First, a partnership program that has achieved critical mass can act as a lead generation machine for the member companies. When opportunities come to them, providers can spend less on sales and business development activities (typically a costly and time-consuming process), and instead devote more capital to fueling their core competencies.
Secondly, dividing a complex project among several specialist firms (rather than one claiming to rule them all) gets better results. Strategic partners rely on each other to tackle the respective pieces of the project where they have proven experience, knowledge and skills. They can get the work done faster, often at less expense, and they can get it right the first time. When multiple partners share the load and do what they do best, the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. In the eyes of the customer, that should be far more valuable than the minor convenience of dealing with a single point of contact.
What a strong partnership program looks like
To be fair, partnership programs don’t always deliver what they promise. Many vendors have joined partnership groups to find them unrewarding, little more than a collection of logos on a web page. To be worthwhile for the member companies and the customers they aim to serve, here are five key attributes a technology partnership should offer:
- Manageable size: Limiting the number of member companies and focusing on a specific use case helps the partners optimize resources, utilize best practices and create a complete solution for the customer in a faster, more cost-effective manner.
- Communication: Communication: A successful partnership program doesn’t keep quiet. Organizers should encourage interaction among member companies, keep them informed of new developments, celebrate their joint achievements, and promote their successes externally.
- Real value: On one hand, the company starting the partnership program should invite partners that will complement and enhance their offering to customers. On the other, member companies should expect that their time and effort spent on the partnership will bring rewards (in the form of new business) much faster than going it alone.
- Organization: Member companies need more than a vague agreement to collaborate. The partnership should offer tools, information and processes to facilitate that interaction systematically. A dedicated web site with marketing literature, business metrics, and routine check-in calls are a good start.
- Commitment: It takes a lot of time and hard work to develop a world-class partnership program that companies are eager to join. The best programs have a full-time staff dedicated to the success of members and creating joint opportunities.
As the energy technology industry stands today, major customers continue to award complex, multi-faceted projects to a single vendor, sacrificing cost and quality in the name of convenience. It’s up to us – technology providers – to change their minds. When we recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and work together to deliver superior solutions, everybody wins.