5 ways to select a great technology partner

You might be asked to find a technological solution to a business problem. Here's how to make sure you pick the right IT provider.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
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All the evidence suggests that line-of-business professionals have increasing influence over IT procurement decisions.

Analyst Gartner has suggested that almost three-quarters (74%) of technology purchases are funded, at least partially, by business units outside IT.

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But if that's the case, how do non-IT professionals know which tech providers to work with? Five business leaders gave us their top tips.

1. Work with a responsive specialist

Jessie Sobel, VP of strategic growth initiatives at Freshpet, is tasked with finding technological solutions to business challenges. She said the right answers come from a joined-up approach to procurement and delivery.

"I'm not leading the tech discussions, but I am leading the higher-level strategy and saying, 'Here's what we're trying to accomplish.' And then we leave it to the tech specialists to ensure we deliver on that proposition," she said to ZDNET. 

"What's key for us from a technology company is responsiveness, a desire to innovate, and an ability to understand our specific consumer needs and what we want to deliver."

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Sobel helps her business identify new opportunities, including the recently launched Custom Meals proposition, which creates personalized orders for customers' pets. Her team uses IT specialist Ordergroove's API technology to build bundles and subscription-based offerings for clients.

"We need a partner that understands our needs and continues to develop solutions," she said. "And then, when we're live, they must respond to any challenges with the technology that impact consumer experience. Ordergroove's team is super-responsive to any questions."

2. Focus on a comfortable fit

Sophie Gallay, global data and client IT director at French retailer Etam, said it's crucial to find a partner who's good to work with.

"It's something that I've always done and recommended when I worked in the consulting industry with clients," she said. "In the end, a deployment is a people project. When you work for months, or even years, to deploy technology, the people in the IT companies you select will be part of your team."

Gallay said to ZDNET that professionals can go and find references from customers who've worked with an IT specialist before. That "super-easy" tactic will give you a sense of whether your partner will be a good fit.

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But the key to success -- and that's something she was focused on during her recent implementation of Snowflake's cloud-based data platform at Etam -- is to work with an IT company that feels comfortable.

"The main point for me is, 'Do I see a cultural and organizational fit between the partner and my company?'" she said. 

"Because if the fit isn't right, you'll waste so much time on the project. And I've seen that on dozens of projects in other organizations, where people end up with a misfit that brings everything down."

3. Find someone who'll say no

Neal Silverstein, head of technology customer services at optometry and audiology specialist Specsavers, said his organization needs to work with IT specialists who are partners rather than providers.

"The cultural alignment is key," he said, explaining how his company uses TeamViewer Tensor and Assist AR to remotely access and troubleshoot machines, including PCs and medical equipment.

"We want a partner who gets us, understands our business and customers, and wants to add value."

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Silverstein said to ZDNET that Specsavers needs partners who are always looking for innovative solutions to business problems.

He said that the market-scanning process requires a subtle approach. Rather than pushing the latest and greatest technologies, Silverstein wants partners who will say "no."

"Knowing what's not possible, as much as what is possible, helps us progress. I've worked in other organizations where you'll get a salesperson who promises the moon, and then when you scratch the surface, you can't get it," he said. "You need to have trust. So, that's why I say you need a technology partner who will say 'no' to your outrageous requests."

4. Don't be swayed by size

Hakan Yaren, CIO at APL Logistics, advises professionals to ensure the provider they pick is someone who won't ignore challenges because they have other goals to achieve. APL Logistics uses Axway's application programming interfaces (APIs) to give customers end-to-end visibility across fulfillment channels.

"Axway is a best-of-breed solution provider. Their size and scale match what we're looking for. So, they're not so large that a company like us can get lost," he said to ZDNET. "We have a lot of access to Axway's top talent -- we can sit down and discuss things. That's one of the things I look for with any technology partner we work with."

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APL Logistics uses Axway's Amplify Platform to manage APIs across several areas, including tracking and tracing shipments and providing inventory-level information from warehouses.

"That approach doesn't mean we don't work with large providers like Microsoft and Oracle," said Yaren. "But when you require a specific engineering solution, I think that's where your decision on technology provider can make a big difference."

5. Aim for a consolidated stack

Tim Lancelot, head of sales enablement at software specialist MHR, said he's seen an "explosion" in the number of technological systems for his line of business during the past few years. "There's more and more solutions out there," Lancelot said.

However, Lancelot said executives now recognize that buying technology does not guarantee success. More technology could mean more problems.

"Where I've seen that trend go in the last couple of years is consolidation because businesspeople don't want 12 different bits of technology in a stack," he said. "Businesspeople like me are asking, 'Could I buy from fewer vendors and still cover all our bases?' Having fewer vendors to deal with means there's less potential for integration problems."

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MHR uses Clari Revenue Platform and a range of the IT company's other data-enabled tools to give people across the business visibility into sales performance.

Lancelot said to ZDNET that using a suite of tools from a single provider has helped his team create a single view of sales. "So, in terms of strategy, we are very excited about consolidated technology stacks and working closely with Clari on what comes next."

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