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Our thoughts | James Jackson-Nichols (Advisor) | 3/28/2024

Why do some technology partnerships outperform others? - What's the secret?

For the last 5 years, I’ve worked for a Marketplace, which was growing quickly and transforming itself from an offline broker to an online digital-first organisation. Inevitably, that has meant working with a variety of technology partners along the journey; some good, some bad. But every experience contributing to a picture of how good technology partners should conduct themselves and the impact of that behaviour. What did I learn along the way?

The clearest lesson is that technology partnerships outperform technology client/supply relationships every time. The latter polarise into two types. Accountability pass-the-parcel suppliers dot every i and cross every t. They refer to briefs in minute detail and get themselves caught up in cycles of documentation and formality to the detriment of on-time delivery. Tumbleweed suppliers adopt a wait to be told what to do ethos. They have no documentation and formality, and they have the unfortunate trait of requiring a client-side FTE to chase every deliverable.

The best working relationships I have had with technology partners sit in the middle of the two. An ethos built around documentation but only where it’s necessary; discovery but only to build understanding (not billables); and formality but to provide confidence to their client partner that they will deliver on the promises they made (and if they can’t that they will communicate that early).

Moreover, the best technology partners genuinely care and take an interest in the business processes and vision of their clients. They insist on being part of company strategy presentations, and they offer up thoughts and potential opportunities without agenda. I love working with technology partners who see themselves as an extension of the in-house team because ultimately the best technology departments I have been involved with have all operated under the philosophy of being a single team with joint accountability for execution of technology strategy.

The second lesson follows on from the first: good partners challenge you. Constructive (ie professional) conflict is advantageous for innovation, creativity and trust. Look for that in your technology partners, just as much as within your core in-house team.

One of the clearest examples of this is what I call the non-commercial elements of technology delivery. Try maintaining the interest of a CEO and shareholders in a conversation about systems monitoring, alerts and permissions management. But if those elements are not in place when you go-live, the conversation is just as difficult. Good technology partners tell you where you need to spend money to deliver a scalable technology solution, not just your deliverables. They know where the risks are through experience, and they insist on the measures which are needed to mitigate them upfront. If you are not having conversations about risk from the start, it’s a red flag.

Finally: good technology partners feel like good technology partners. They are fun to work with. Some of my closest professional colleagues (and friends) come from technology partners I have worked with over the years. It may be difficult to evaluate that upfront but there are often numerous checkpoints before work starts and over that time it’s important that it feels as though the chemistry is right.

Ask yourself whether the individuals you have met, and possible potential team members, are the right fit from a personality perspective. It’s often overlooked, but it’s crucially important because a technology partner can contribute just as much to culture as internal team members. Just as the right partner should be an extension of the in-house team, so they should also be an extension of the culture you are looking to create.

I became an advisor for Journi because I believe that strong technology partners are uniquely positioned to enable clients to achieve amazing things. I also believe poor technology partners can have a similarly uniquely stifling impact on growth because good technology has now become a pre-requisite to good business process. At Journi, the team immerse themselves into the inner workings of our clients. We build technology which enables your growth trajectory. And we aim to have some fun along the way.

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