8 minute read

Ever since hunting and gathering gave way to agrarian society, the marketplace has been evolving. That’s thousands of years of fine tuning who does what – narrowing focus, gaining expertise. Now it’s 2019, and everyone is a specialist.

The Partnership Imperative

Specialized know-how is a good thing; it’s what makes your company valuable. You focus on what you do best and deliver that superior service to your clients. But when you don’t have the in-house expertise you need, that’s when panic can set in, especially when you’re staring down the barrel of a high-stakes IT project.

Few industries have become as specialized as the tech sector. Even if you have a robust IT department, you’re going to have gaps in your knowledge base. Enterprise information systems, user experience design, software development, legacy systems management, cloud computing, big data, business intelligence. You just can’t do it all. In today’s business landscape, strategic IT partner selection is critical.

Mistaken Mindsets

Not to sound all New Agey, but before you begin the search for an IT partner, make sure your decision makers are in the right headspace. Here are three errors in judgement that routinely sink IT projects before they even get off the ground:

  1. Prioritizing Price Over Value
  2. Disregarding Future Needs
  3. Overlooking Onboarding

Prioritizing Price Over Value: All too often, a complex IT project in the hands of an inexperienced or ill-qualified vendor (read: lowest bidder) will swallow up budgets, spin wheels, and ultimately require a stop, reset, and restart. A complete do-over. What started out as bargain hunting ends in double-the-cost, double-the-fun disaster. Don’t get us wrong; we love our rescue clients. They have the kind of loyalty that only comes from horrible mistreatment at the hands of our predecessors, but we highly recommend you save yourself the headache. 

Disregarding Future Needs: A successful IT project is one that plans for the future. Of course that includes the ability to scale up capacity and complexity as your business grows and evolves, but don’t stop there. Your shiny, new IT solution should also be able to integrate with other systems and tools, even ones that haven’t been developed yet. Adaptability is a must in any field changing as quickly as business tech.

Overlooking Onboarding: Any plan to implement a new IT project should include strategies for how the project will be rolled out. Successful implementation hinges on user buy-in and adoption. How will users be trained? How will the project integrate with existing systems?

Getting Your Ducks in a Row

Once you’ve had those tough conversations to ensure you’re prioritizing the right things, there are a couple more To-Do items before auditioning IT partners: assess your readiness and assemble a selection team.

We’re going to go ahead and assume you have clearly defined overarching business goals because, without them, it probably never would’ve occurred to you to undertake a pivotal IT project. But before you post that RFP, we recommend a simple exercise: Write out your major business goals for this particular technology project. (You may want to do it in pencil.) This is your litmus test for moving forward. If you can’t clearly outline your project goals in this most basic format, you’re probably not ready for the intricacies of a tech project.

Got your goals? Now let’s make sure you have the right people at the table selecting an IT partner. Of course you need to include in-house IT staff, but don’t forget about users. They provide critical insight into the current situation on the ground and likely have a wish list at the ready. C-level representation keeps long-term goals at the forefront of the selection process.

A CFO is a particularly good choice for your selection committee because s/he knows the financial big picture and likely doesn’t “speak tech.” To impress your CFO, a quality IT partner will need to exhibit strategic business experience and savvy with the ability to communicate at the highest level. Just as a surgeon explains to a patient, in plain English, what to expect as a result of surgery, an experienced IT partner will readily articulate the business advantages you’ll gain at the completion of this project (e.g., revenue growth due to a shorter sales cycle, streamlined operations, improved client communication and data security).

Critical IT Partner Criteria

You’re ready to start searching for that perfect IT partner. Here are the essential qualities to look for:

  • Unimpeachable Character
  • Solid Experience
  • Familiarity with Your Industry/Business
  • Glowing References
  • Sound Planning
  • Project Management Protocol
  • Agile Longevity

Unimpeachable Character: This IT firm will essentially become an extension of your company. They will learn the ins and outs of your business and advocate for your best interests. You need to trust them implicitly. Make sure their values and beliefs align with yours and your company cultures match.

Solid Experience: IT projects come in all different shapes and sizes. You need a company that has been doing your type of project for years. They should have a wealth of knowledge about what you’re trying to accomplish and how to get there. They are supposed to be experts; make sure they are.

Familiarity with Your Industry/Business: A good-fit IT partner will be familiar with your type of business and the industry in which you operate. It’s not the end of the world if they aren’t, as long as they ask the right questions to understand what you do and how a new IT solution will impact your existing systems. But a steep learning curve is never optimal.

Glowing References: Ideally not just any happy clients, but references specific to the type of project you are undertaking. Any established company will have them and offer them up willingly. Calling references isn’t just a formality; it’s crucial due diligence. Don’t be satisfied with, “They were great!” Push for constructive criticism; even the best have room for improvement.

Sound Planning: Prospective IT partners should provide a detailed plan of how they will accomplish implementing your project. The plan should include regular meetings, requirements gathering, and build specifications. It is your shared blueprint for success.

Project Management Protocol: Experienced IT consultancies know how to manage for transparency and accountability. They will explain how your project will be managed and who will be serving as the project manager. In most cases, this should be a different person than the developer(s). That may seem like an extra cost, but it’s the exact opposite. Skilled oversight keeps the project headed in the right direction, protecting you and insuring your investment.

Agile Longevity: Lastly, a major indicator of a successful company is how long they’ve been in business. Just as important as longevity is how they’ve adapted and moved with the times, especially in tech – an industry that revolutionizes every few years whether it needs it or not. You want a company that has a solid history and its finger on the pulse of what’s to come, so they can design and implement your project to be ready for whatever the future may bring.

Refuse to Settle

In 2019 and beyond, tech is the great differentiator. It’s automation. It’s insight. It’s how you work smarter to beat the competition. A strategic IT partnership should deliver all of the above on a silver platter.

If you are underwhelmed by current vendors, or you’re just not getting that slam-dunk feeling from the firms you’ve talked to thus far, it’s time to call Mind Over Machines. Our 30-year history means we’ve weathered every storm, worked in most every industry, embraced change and harnessed innovation to make technology work for people. You deserve an IT partner with business acumen and technical insight. Let’s partner to grow your business together.