Expertise, innovation and flexibility are some of the many benefits an external technology consulting partner brings. As technology becomes increasingly specialist and continues to move forward at pace, sourcing an IT partner becomes even more essential for businesses.
The procurement process often examines the hard benefits of working with a partner, like a reduction in capital and operational expenditure. And it goes into detail about what your technology consulting provider will do. But the way your partner works is an important part of the service that’s often overlooked.
In this article, we argue that your IT partner’s business culture is as important as what they do. And we outline the behaviours you should look for when procuring IT consulting services to drive a true partnership and exceptional delivery.
Why Culture is Important
As Bananarama once said: “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results.”
These aren’t merely the words to a pop song. They express an idea backed up by research which shows that organisational performance and culture are inextricably linked.
As the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development says: “well-aligned, open, collaborative business culture encourages employees to be innovative, problem-solving, effective with customers, and drive success against objectives.”
On the other hand, misaligned cultures can create: “toxic environments which damage the processes through which the business creates value”. This can create substantial risk including misaligned behaviours, employee disengagement and stifled innovation and productivity.
In effect, the reason why culture is important is because how you work impacts the outcome as much as what you do.
In retail, where margins are tight and everything’s to play for, IT collaboration can feel like a risk. Finding a reliable partner with the relevant skills and experience that will also gel with your business culture is a challenge that can sometimes fall into the ‘too difficult’ pile.
Yet standing still due to outdated technology is an even greater risk.
The solution is to source an IT consulting services partner that exhibits the behaviours to enable you to work effectively, side by side. Fiona Harris, REPL’s HR Business Partner agrees: “Having a culture people can easily identify and align themselves to fosters a great environment where people feel happy, productive and want to do their best.”
Culture Cascades From the Top of an Organisation Down
IT consulting relationships can take many forms depending on the kind of work required. Fiona says: “retailers might need consultancy support or they might need experts to work alongside their IT teams or on behalf of the retailer. The definition of consultancy really depends on the project and the customer.”
When seeking an external technology partner it’s important to consider that relationships are built at all levels of the organisation. From the executive team to the frontline.
It’s likely that your retail business’ first meeting will be with senior team members. Business culture often cascades from the top down so pay close attention to leaders’ attitudes; they’ll be the weathervane for the rest of the organisation.
Choose Wisely – Business Culture is Infectious
Another reason to choose your IT partner wisely is because culture extends beyond your supplier: it infiltrates your IT team. “It’s important to make sure your supplier’s values are aligned to your own so that both sides of the team – the IT consultancy and the retailer – are working towards broadly similar goals,” says Fiona. “Make sure it’s a good fit to promote great working relationships, great communication and greater productivity between the partnership.”
Does this mean you should only work with a company that’s closely aligned to your own culture and values? In general, yes, this helps. However, if your business is in the early stages of taking a new approach – for example by becoming more pioneering – working with a provider that already exhibits this behaviour could set a good example. And it might be a catalyst that pulls your people in the right direction.
So what should you look for in a technology consulting provider?
Honesty Drives Best Results
Whatever your technology project, you want an exceptional outcome. All providers will guarantee this. But those that you really want to work with back their claims up with values and behaviours that will deliver standout results.
“Look for a provider that seeks innovative solutions,” says Fiona. “One that’s not afraid to empower colleagues, customers and partners to be the best they can be. That means seeking technology consultants that lead the market from the front and position themselves as an extension of your team.”
The best IT consultancies also value transparency and see themselves as working alongside your teams. This means they’ll bring their expertise to consult and collaborate. But because they’re aligned to your organisation, they’ll also question and challenge to drive the best results.
Neurodiversity – Beyond STEM
At the heart of technology lies innovation which is closely related to diversity. Research shows that diverse teams are more creative, better at solving problems and that they outperform the competition.
IT consulting service providers that ensure more diverse teams through their recruitment and retention processes will naturally bring new ideas to the table. Gender is the obvious diversity challenge within IT. And leading IT consultancies are taking active steps to redress the balance.
However, suppliers that look beyond gender add new dimensions to their team and those of their customers. “It’s important to ensure your IT outsourcing partner doesn’t conform to any biases and that they’re not just recruiting more of the same but a fully diverse, inclusive workforce,” says Fiona. “Obviously, REPL recruits people with STEM subjects but is it actually that important? I did a joint major in maths and philosophy but some of my colleagues have language and business qualifications so we’re not completely confined to STEM which helps to provide genuine difference in thought.”
Beyond recruitment, neurodiversity can also form part of learning and development using psychological profiling tools (like DISC) to understand how others think, problem solve and react.
Fiona believes that this diversity of thought brings additional insight and competitive advantage: “we have people with different behaviour types and that’s actually what we’re looking for. We don’t just want people from one quadrant or the other, so we make sure we have a fully diverse workforce in terms of thinking as well.”
What Values Should You Look for in a Provider?
To ensure your IT consulting services partner will deliver, you need to look for some key attributes:
Transparency – you don’t want a provider that sits on their hands. Make sure your technology consulting partner is brave enough to be your advocate and that they’re happy to share their knowledge. Clear terms of reference, strong account management and a project manager are all signs that your provider wants to be open with you.
Challenging – the best relationships are built on trust and honesty and challenge forms part of the journey to ensure you get the best solution.
Pioneering – look for market leaders who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo; this is how you drive innovation, difference and market competitiveness.
Resilient – no project ever goes 100% smoothly so working with a partner that adapts and changes until they find the right solution is key to a positive outcome.
Passionate – people who enjoy their jobs are warm, friendly and determined to do their best. Look for technology consulting partners who’ll bring hunger to your team and spread a sense of inspiration.
Build Your IT Team With a Complementary Culture
Inviting an external IT firm into your business is a little like inviting strangers into your home. To make the most of the benefits of technology collaboration:
- Remember that business culture is as critical as technical know-how because how you apply knowledge is as important as the knowledge itself
- Include a section in your tendering process to capture potential IT consulting services’ values and behaviours and check to see if they align with yours
- Check that everyone you deal with, at all levels of the technology consulting organisation, exhibit these behaviours – if not this is a red flag
- Set project objectives that include how you’ll deliver as well as what you’ll do to keep everyone focussed on both sides of the success equation
Find out more about REPL’s culture and how we’re addressing the gender balance.