The rules of business have almost entirely changed, but possibly none more so than the relationship between client and vendor. The pandemic was the crisis moment many businesses ran tests for or put forward theses on, but when occurring in real life, it offered the perfect case study of sorting good from bad, trusted from not. Some relationships have blossomed, others were quickly terminated.
To understand what that means for partnerships in the coming years, Joanna Drake, CIO, The Hut Group, Maureen Little, VP, Technology Partnerships, Okta, Phil Scully, CIO, Costa Coffee, Paul Coby, CIO, Johnson Matthey and Nick Reeks, Director IT, Tata Steel, compared and contrasted their experiences, at The Studio @ Home, to agree on the future of partnerships.
“The pandemic did not cause us to change direction but it did force us to critically analyze what we were doing,” said Nick Reeks. “We constantly asked ourselves, ‘is this a good plan to activate now?’ and central to any answer was the presence of partners. They really stepped up in 2020 and proved they can deliver us the tools to help us go further.
“My focus now is ensuring we keep this level of working in the business-as-usual phase, that we don’t lose this focus and dynamic,” he added.
The Hut Group’s Joanna Drake had to learn the hard way on the importance of partners, but fortunately this was well before the pandemic.
“One of the reasons we changed partners was because there was a cultural mismatch,” she reflected. “As a business we’re fast-paced and we have to move quickly because of the rate of acquisitions we make, so quickly recognizing who to work with is a crucial business skill.”
By making that difficult decision back in 2019, Drake and her team condensed her partnerships into a few she trusted implicitly. And the results speak for themselves. The Hut Group is one of Europe’s fastest growing businesses and recently IPO’d on the London Stock Exchange. For her, this difference in relationships is the key reason for their success.
“Our partners have become true extensions of the team and not just another transactional supplier.”
Paul Coby of Johnson Matthey has been in the game for a little while longer—and in a previous roundtable admitted the pandemic offered a crisis unlike any he had seen in his multi-decadal career.
“All suppliers talk about being a partner in a crisis,” he noted, “but this was truly the year you found out who your friends were: the most common question we asked was, ‘how can you as a supplier support us through this?’”
Flexibility is key
Johnson Matthey is a global manufacturer that builds catalytic converters to a third of the world’s vehicles. When the automotive industry shut down and then restarted, the business had to learn to be as reflexive as possible—a trait they required from their partners too.
“We found many of our partners were very flexible and were happy to help. We needed to onboard 7000 people onto the Microsoft platform and now we’re working with them on a robotic program automation plan to help supercharge our B2B2C platform. We’ve seen three years of change in a matter of months and you must expect that change to be reflected in your partnerships.
“We’re just seeing the start of this,” added Coby.
Maureen Little of Okta runs its partnerships, but started in January 2020. Very quickly her vision for her team quickly dissipated and she had to reevaluate who wanted what, when and how. This was the time for Okta to prove their worth in a crisis.
“You figure out who your friends are very quickly and strategize,” said Little. “For two months we solely focused on remote security, tighter integrations, messaging material, to make sure our customers’ end points were tight.
“We also focused on our unique proposition: we’re an integration and identity business, and that’s what our customers needed most help with.”
Okta fast-tracked product innovation and partner relationships, shifting their messaging tone from suggestive to direct. It created a far more motivated team than before, reported Little.
Costa Coffee’s CIO took that one step further in his analysis of partnerships today, and in doing so accurately summed up the overarching message of the debate.
“Pace and trust will be the two differentiators for good partnerships moving forward,” said Phil Scully, “so consider what barriers are in place that are preventing you from moving quickly or moving with trust in-built into the relationship because if you don’t, you work nearly as well in the coming months.”