Working effectively with technology partners in the public sector

Managing large-scale IT change and transformation programmes to deliver improvements in Public Sector services, and efficiencies across government departments and public sector organisations, is complex. A key component in getting it right is working effectively with technology partners that will inevitably be involved. 



Why are technology partnerships important? 


Effective partnerships are a critical factor in ensuring that major IT change initiatives complete on time and on budget across the public sector. Partnering with those private sector organisations that can provide the technology leadership, systems integration, or specialised IT support, is an essential ingredient for success and it is critical that these partnerships are set up properly and operate well. 


Working with partners where everything clicks, partners who understand what you need and where everyone works together to get the job done, is a rewarding experience which typically leads to a successful outcome. Partnerships that don’t work out can suck the very life out of you, damage your team’s culture and morale, diminish stakeholder confidence and ultimately lead to a failure to deliver the change you were aiming for. 



The four main reasons we see these partnerships ‘slipping up’:


  • Clarity: the outcomes and requirements of the partner were not sufficiently defined. It was not clear why they were needed and what they were expected to bring to the programme  
  • Planning: what the partner was tasked to do, and at what cost, was unrealistic from the very beginning of the programme  
  • Capability: the internal programme leadership, capacity, capability, and experience needed to manage the partner was under-estimated  
  • Commercials: the commercial deal that was put in place drove the partner to work and behave in a way that was counter-productive to achieving the desired outcomes. 



Five steps to establishing an effective partnership 


Step 1. Set up for success 


Good preparation and planning will lead to a much better outcome when setting out to engage a technology partner for a large-scale IT change programme. Consider the following: 


  • Are you clear why you need a technology partner? What are the specific business outcomes you need to achieve and how will you measure them? 
  •  Do you know exactly what you want from a partner? Can you specify what they need to deliver and what their specific accountabilities will be? 
  •  Does your team have the experience, capability and capacity needed to work effectively with a partner? Are you clear on the constraints that could limit success? 



Step 2. Select the right partner 


Use an appropriate public sector framework to select your external technology partner. Getting the procurement right is critical, so make sure you: 


  • Agree the selection criteria upfront and understand how you will determine best fit 
  •  Define the evaluation and selection process including the balance between technical requirements and cost, and the need for case studies and references 
  •  Involve the right stakeholders in the process to ensure they are involved in the decision.



Step 3. Contract appropriately 


Understand what’s in it for your technology partner. Being open with each other about this up front will reduce the risk of friction in the future. Make sure you: 


  • Incentivise the right behaviours, check and double-check the criteria or measures you set from the partner’s point of view to assess what actions or behaviours these could drive 
  • Keep it simple, measures and reporting often add little value but drive lots of cost and can give a false sense of control; define the ‘must haves’ 
  • Set out the service definitions very clearly; the critical part of all good contracts is the service definition i.e. what are you contracting the partner to do? 



Step 4. Realise the value and power of working together 


Make the most of the initial engagement. It’s difficult to recover from a false start so invest time to make sure everyone is working together, and any issues are quickly and effectively resolved by: 


  • Establishing one programme team; make your chosen partner a fully integrated part of the team and stamp out any “them and us” issues early doors 
  • Proactively removing the roadblocks in your own department or organisation – i.e. poor decision making, changes in direction, poor requirements etc. 



Step 5. Strengthen the relationship and drive continuous improvement 


Define how you will govern and manage the partnership up front, making sure this spans all levels of engagement. Make sure that it is two-way. Use a simple scorecard, have regular relationship meetings that are value adding to both parties and accept feedback on your team. 


Listen to feedback and have adult-to-adult conversations. Look forward, anticipate problems, recognising your own shortcomings as well as those of the technology partner. 



Do you need change expertise? 


At Project One, we help and support our public sector customers deliver complex IT change programmes and work effectively with external technology partners. Our team of change experts have years of experience and work with senior leaders to provide independent change support through every step of their change journey. If you would like to discuss your specific challenges and our public sector experience to see how we can help, please get in touch.


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