Every business needs the right mix of resources from payroll, administrative, sales to technology. This need is exactly why we have C-level functions and in the technology space the CTO and technology resources are critical to the successful operation and growth of the business.
This holds true for businesses of all sizes. Think of a restaurant with a sole-proprietor, the business will be dependent on the Point-of-Sales system, maybe additional third party systems to manage online orders and all of this will have a serious impact on the bottom line and the business's ability to grow.
In this article we'll focus on the needs of medium size businesses and how to efficiently leverage technology partners using key considerations for procurement, managing external partners and best practices to deliver and support technology implementations.
Know Your Needs
Before assessing what vendor may be the best fit for your requirements take a step back and think strategically what is truly needed to enhance your business's technology. Ultimately you will need to develop some vision for the business's technology, to do this assume you have a blank check and unlimited resources. ...and then unfortunately scale back to reality. The point of this exercise is to determine your critical needs and some upper and lower boundaries for best and worst case scenarios which you will use later on to steer conversations with prospective technology partners. This information is important because as a client you will not always be aware of what will drive costs with your vendor, some things may seem out of reach but your vendor may advise you that these features are technically simple and low cost where other seemingly simple features may have a high cost. These considerations are critical to coming to an agreement on scope and budget for projects.
Envision the Ideal Technology Partnership
It is important to be conscious of the types of engagements you may have with a vendor as there are many different approaches and not all are fit for purpose. For example, the business may need resources in a pinch for a short time frame which may fit well with staff augmentation firms alternatively, and very commonly, there are strategic deliverables needed and in this case it is a much more sound approach to arrange a delivery focused project under a Statement of Work with a vendor which has specific deadlines and milestones. In this way you will keep your vendor accountable for delivery rather than solely requesting resources which has no accountability for delivery.
Research Your Options
Find firms that appear to have expertise in the area you need help with the most and start some initial discussions to see how they can help and confirm that they are actually a fit for your project and not just overselling their capabilities. You should also be conscious of the level of engagement you can expect from the firm. I am a bit biased but in-practice I find engaging with medium to smaller business much more effective as there's an interpersonal connection and typically more dedication to delivering their products and services (I find this to be true of IT and non-IT services).
Make sure you have a well-defined scope before entering in any kind of contractual or commercial commitment with a vendor. If things are open ended and you're not entirely sure what you want or even if you are confident in what's needed but don't have anything in writing, this is a recipe for disaster. IT projects fail regularly due to issues with scoping so agreeing this upfront really sets the path for a successful project.
Plan, Budget and Close
Once you have your scope nailed down agree on a plan with timelines, milestones and budget. A few tips for this process, try to leave ~20% of your budget reserved so you can use this for anything that overruns and if there's no overrun you can use this for additional enhancements. Similarly to budget, you'll want to have a time buffer around ~20% to ensure everything get's delivered, tested and signed-off by your internal deadlines. On the vendor side I typically try to bake this into a plan and communicate that to our clients so there's no need for these ~20% buffers, but many vendors wont offer much of a buffer on cost overrun so it's helpful to keep this in mind.
Once you have everything nailed down close and move forward, make sure everything is documented and kick-off your project. It's important to not drag your feet, if you do the project might get deprioritized or the original vision may become less clear later on making it harder to deliver. Your original needs will likely still remain so it's often best to keep moving and keep your business operating efficiently.
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