Of course, choosing the right partners is not a trivial exercise. The selection process can take months, and this relationship will have to be actively managed for it to be effective for both parties. The benefits, however, are well worth the efforts.
You need to be more rigorous than usual when selecting technology service provider for a high-level partnership, because there is a lot at stake. For one thing, the relationship will need to last for a long time (4+ years, typically). Secondly, this will have an impact on your reputation and ability to deliver services to your organization.
Start out by ensuring that you have the right number of providers. Depending on the size of your organization, and how many locations your business has a presence in, you might need to partner with as many as a half-dozen *key* technology providers. Smaller organizations should be able to work with 2-4 key providers. Never partner with less than two, however, as this will give you pricing leverage and prevent dangerous lock-in situations. And it keeps the partners honest.
Next, they will need to be the right size for your needs:
Lastly, you must ensure that there is both a strategic and a cultural fit - especially the the latter. This is very, very important. This is not intended to be a 12-15 month relationship, but one that might span 5 or more years. Things will not go well if the two organizations have goals that don't mesh, or there is friction between the teams. This is essentially an extension of your organization, and so the consideration given to cultural fit must be similar to that of hired staff members.
You should consider testing prospective partners with a small-scale project that has simple parameters and a modest deadline. This will give you a good feel for the relationship's potential, and limit your risks going in. Also, ensure that final approval for the project and the relationship is shared across your organization, to minimize both pain and risk. Having broad corporate buy-in for the relationship means that many more people will be willing to put in the time for it to be effective.
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