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Don’t worry, the supplier will sort that for us!

Over the course of our careers, we’ve all seen lots of ‘transformation’ programmes that deliver just a fraction of the promised business benefit. Some of you will have been fortunate enough to experience those all-too-infrequent projects where the planets align and things just click – the strategy is right, technology transformation is in lockstep with business transformation, the relationships are symbiotic and the delivery just ‘gets done’. Having spent several years providing governance across the delivery portfolio in a fairly big organisation, I’ve been lucky enough to see more of these than most.

With close to 100% certainty, I can say that the common success factors in programmes that really succeed are balance and a clear understanding of who needs to own what. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that a supplier, regardless of what they promise, can, by themselves, magically turn your world around and make you the organisation they’ll be writing books about in 10 years.

"The reality is that you need to own what makes you different and you can’t expect a third party to provide this for you."

A supplier can help you achieve a vision for competitive advantage, but unless they’re a sharp-suited, brain-the-size-of-a-planet strategy consultancy, then the vision has to come from you and you can’t abdicate responsibility for providing it. If you do, you’re effectively going to get ‘best practice’, which is effectively what everyone else has and just makes you the same.

Whether to outsource or insource is your choice and there are valid reasons for both, but the common factor is that you need the best people you can afford to shape, architect, govern and manage your change. If you outsource the vision, you’ll get ‘me-too’. If you don’t have the right technical team to set direction and govern the solution design, then the solution will be compromised in terms of its fit to your business need. In some cases, it may be so compromised that it’s unusable. Similarly, without the right delivery and supplier management, it’s just not going to get done.

The point isn’t that suppliers are bad, quite the contrary. As a supplier, I’ve seen my teams deliver great things for clients. As a client I’ve had suppliers pull rabbits-out-of-hats in the face of overwhelming odds. The thing is that success comes from finding the right balance – own what you need to own, create the environment in which a client and supplier relationship can flourish and drive success through an informed, fair, robust relationship. Don’t expect suppliers to fix your deficiencies – it’s your business and you should own it. One sided relationships in either direction, whether financially, commercially, skill-related or balance of responsibilities NEVER work.

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