Amid the world of work and the organized chaos of collaboration, one thing business leaders often took for granted was the humble partner relationship. Whether for a specific solution, a short campaign, a multi-year, multi-function digital transformation or a wider strategic scope, the relationship between client and vendor had reached an equilibrium of expectation. That is, you worked with who you had often worked with and it was becoming increasingly harder to differentiate between who could truly help you innovate.
Then, in early 2020, shock waves from confirmed reports of a global pandemic reverberated in every boardroom and quick decisions had to be made in fight or flight mode. That included the future viability of technology and vendor partnerships. And for technology leaders, it may mean that who and how they do business may have changed forever.
At the Studio @ Home, technology leaders Eileen Jennings Brown, Head of Technology, Wellcome Trust; Krzysztof Szabelski, Head of Technology, Future Processing; Felipe Penacoba Martinez, Global Services, Finastra; Andy Caddy, Group Technology Director, The Collective , sat together (virtually) to debate the context for partnerships today. But first, they reflected on what happened in the immediate aftermath of their countries’ lockdowns.
“One of the biggest surprises for me was how flexible my partners were,” said Jennings-Brown. “Over the last few months I’ve called on favours with suppliers, called demands and brought up things that was never part of the initial agreement, and also changed direction, but suppliers have been super flexible—and it’s made me reevaluate our engagement across the board.”
It’s even strengthened those partnerships, she reflected.
“It’s made me look at work from the supplier point of view and now we talk about strategic direction, what we want to do and that’s changed the relationship. We’re no longer transactional and they value us more and more, I believe, giving us the personal touch that we maybe weren’t getting before.”
Caddy of The Collective agreed. His current position heads the technology function at the UK-based housing development business that builds co-working, co-living spaces for professionals. It’s a scale-up and much smaller than his previous chief position at Whitbread.
“This year has certainly redefined what you want out of a relationship,” said Caddy. “We’ve been through some tough times, as we probably all have, and what stood out for are the partners who have been human.
“Some have and some haven’t,” he continued, “but that only means that next year you understand who you want to work with.”
The roundtable agreed that this year partner relationships had been put under the microscope. In an idea world a business and its partner(s) share goals and visions together and whereas before there was little impact to rock the boat and break apart even the most horizontal of relationships, now teams and leaders can be that bit bolder and strike forward.
“We’ve turned a corner,” said Caddy, “and there are now more opportunities to work with those you want and enjoy closer relationships.”
At Finastra, Penacoba Martinez has been impressed not just with the quality of his partner relationships, but what they have been able to do in this period together.
“We’ve been able to work altogether and put improvements in place for the end customer,” he said. “SME lending solutions and payment holidays for families struggling with a changing jobs market, both created without charge to customers because it’s the right thing to do.”
Wheat from the chaff
He also archly noted that the crisis had provided sunlight on those businesses faking their innovative streaks. Innovation PR and lingo has infiltrated even the most technologically-averse companies and it has been hard for technology leads to understand the partners that truly understand their technology. The pandemic, thought Penacoba Martinez, had allowed businesses to catch those out.
And for the vendor perspective itself, the view was similar.
“Trusted partnerships with clients is the most important thing we have,” said Szabelski. “We have to take special care of them, to understand what their situation is, what our own is and the risks and opportunities we share.”
He concluded that those relationships which had built-in reactiveness, an adaptability to changing market conditions, would be best served to both brand and vendor. In a highly unpredictable global industry, the future of partnerships seems to be transparency, empathy and resilience.