Should you stick to the one IT partner? Or is there a case to be made for working with more than one IT company? The Grant McGregor team considers your options.
When we begin thinking about whether it’s a good idea to have a single or multiple IT partners, there is a general thought that opting to work with one partner is going to be easier. After all, you only have one partner to hold accountable when things go wrong.
Working with one partner will mean:
• Less time managing the relationships, since there is only one relationship to manage
• No need to manage the interface between the different suppliers
• Easier for staff to understand to whom to escalate enquiries
• Avoid the blame game
But is choosing to work with a single supplier always the right decision?
The quick answer: it depends.
For the long answer – and some advice about how to make it work – read on.
Before we go any further, it’s probably worth considering what we mean by working with multiple IT partners. Given the increasing digitalisation of business and our lives, it’s likely that you already have multiple IT suppliers – even if you currently are not outsourcing your IT support.
That’s because of the ease with which we now can run and install software and services. If you consider all the different apps you run on your personal mobile phone, for example, you’ve probably got upwards of fifty IT suppliers on that device alone!
Of course, it would be difficult to argue that you have a relationship with these SaaS suppliers – much less a partnership. Most will be a one-off purchase. Others might send an occasional email or notification. A few might even have recurring subscriptions or repeat purchases. But that’s usually as far as it goes.
It’s the same for the software-as-a-service apps you run within your organisation’s operations; many of the relationships you have with those suppliers will never approach the status of a partnership.
If your organisation has invested in bespoke or specialist software, however, it is more likely that your relationship with those suppliers is closer to a partnership. This could also be the same for your internet line provider or if you use a multi-factor authentication services company.
Certainly, when you purchase bespoke software, the process of purchasing, specifying, tailoring and implementing it is very different. Instead of simply installing an app, you necessarily have to develop a close working relationship that requires ongoing management.
So if you are an organisation with any of the above, you’ll already have at least one relationship to manage. But should you introduce additional partners into the mix?
There may be good business reasons for working with multiple suppliers. Usually, as out example of bespoke software development indicates, it will come down to your organisation’s need to access specialist IT skills.
• To develop a new business app or web service
• To create bespoke software
• To implement specialist machinery or connected devices
• To access specialist information governance or cyber security skills
• To manage a cloud migration
This isn’t to say, of course, that you couldn’t find all of these specialisms within one partner, but the more these specialist skills you require, the more difficult it will be to find a suitable partner that can fulfil them all. Understanding your organisational IT requirements and future direction of travel is therefore an important prerequisite when choosing an IT partner.
A very important – and sometimes overlooked factor – in any decision about working with multiple IT partners, is your organisation’s inhouse capacity to manage those relationships. It will simply require more time and effort to manage those relationships, the more relationships you have to manage.
You’ll also need to very clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each partner and specify the processes that cover the ways of governing behaviour when there is the potential for the two to overlap. (Hopefully, it goes without saying that they should never overlap). This will need to be defined and agreed in advance so that you can effectively mesh the contracts together and agree responsibilities contractually.
This kind of service integration capability can be hard to develop internally, so if you don’t have skills in house to manage this, then this could be a big blocker to using multiple partners.
Of course, it is easier if there are clear lines of responsibility, e.g. one company provides the development and support of a particular specialist software, the other provides first line support on a support desk that covers everything except that software.
Even then, however, it isn’t always simple, e.g. who is managing the infrastructure that the software sits on? Who is responsible for the cyber security around that? How does it integrate with your identity management?
This all needs thinking through and agreeing carefully.
The other obvious “pro” we hear posited in favour of working with more than one partner is the extra leverage it gives you when it comes to negotiation. When it’s time to renew contracts and talk prices, if you only have one partner in the mix, you clearly don’t have so much leverage.
However, we have to wonder whether the value saved through any such negotiation would cover or outweigh the additional management burden you are shouldering internally?
Plus, of course, we’d argue that if your partners need this kind of motivation to deliver great service at a good price, then perhaps it’s time to look for a new partner anyway…?
Given the extra complexity and effort required to manage partner relationships – especially where there is potential for overlap or conflict – there really needs to be a good reason for working with multiple IT partners.
As we’ve discussed, the need for specialist or bespoke software together with the desire to outsource general IT support is a good reason.
Equally, if your organisation lacks particular essential skills or competencies, then working with multiple partners might be a good idea. For example, does your existing IT support company offer you enough proactive support when it comes to cyber security?
Further, if you have a heavy burden in one particular area, then working with multiple specialist partners can also pay off. For example, you might like to work with us for your Cyber Essentials certification, but call in additional support for penetration testing. Or you might like to work with us to develop your cloud migration strategy, but lean into additional change management consultancy services to ensure that any changes land well with your internal teams.
If you do decide to work with multiple IT providers, the key to success is to agree ground rules in advance and have them clearly defined and agreed before the engagement starts.
This is made easier when you choose partners who work regularly together. For example, as Microsoft Partners, we work closely alongside Microsoft black belts and specialist teams on a number of projects. Because we’re all pulling in the same direction, this kind of partner relationship is easy to manage for the customer organisation.
Ultimately, unless you have the inhouse resources to manage complex or overlapping relationships, it is going to be easier for you to manage if you can work with a single IT partner to deliver your IT services.
This will only ever represent the greater risk if your IT partner is not good enough.
You can read our tips for doing your due diligence on any IT partner here.
Or read more tips for switching an IT partner here on our blog.
Plus, our thoughts on how long it really takes to switch IT companies.
If you aren’t happy with your current IT supplier relationships, please get in touch with our team to discuss how Grant McGregor might be better able to support your organisation and deliver a better service.
You can call us on: 0808 164 4142
You can also download our guide to the “Six Secrets to Better IT Service” here: