Let’s face it: 2020 was a hard year. The only thing harder? Trying to chase 2020 with a new year filled with forced digital transformation, a quickly changing digital marketplace, and arguably just as much uncertainty as we’ve been facing for the last 12 months. Luckily, many companies are finding that creating strategic partnerships within smart, purposeful business ecospheres could be one fail-safe solution to staying in business and relevant in 2021.
According to the Dell Digital Transformation Index 2020, “Too Few Technology Partners” is a common obstacle to successful digital transformation for more than 20 percent of companies surveyed. That means 1 in 5 companies doesn’t feel they have the right partner ecosystems to enable transformative success. Still, the opportunity is there—and plentiful. What’s more, those companies ready and willing to embrace the role of “digital adopter” and “digital leader” will be able to use their resources, expertise, and solutions to create value for others at almost every level.
The following are a few ways partnerships make a difference and how they can help further enable digital transformation in 2021.
Expand Your Capabilities
Some 2/3 of business leaders agree curating effective ecosystems is the only way to succeed in the current business climate. Why? Because they realize technology isn’t an end-all, be-all solution in the marketplace. Every tech investment requires time, resources, and skill, all of which can be in high demand (and low availability) in the marketplace. Imagine if, in order to use AI in your company, you needed to employ your own AI developer. Your own coder. Your own infrastructure architect. Most companies would be out of business in a week—or in tears trying to write accurate job descriptions. Rather than trying to keep everything under one “house,” companies are realizing that they can simply partner with the best people in other organizations to make even stronger products and services. And moving forward, tech will become so much more complex, that working with partners will likely be the only realistic option.
What happens to those who choose not to develop within a complementary ecosystem? Just ask Europe. Reports show Europe is falling behind in the AI race. Why? Studies show 60 percent of their companies don’t share data with other businesses. Even worse, 58 percent of companies that do receive data from companies don’t reuse it! This is a culture problem? It’s an anti-transformation mindset? Perhaps it is related to data privacy laws and a misunderstanding of how to apply them? Regardless of the reason, continuing to turn inward is costing Europe on its own tech race. And it won’t be able to pull forward until it turns—you guessed it—outward.
Expand Customer and Partner Pool
What happens when you enlarge your network? You grow your prospective customer and partner base. That’s exactly what building tech and business ecosystems is all about. When you allow other companies to do what they do well, while continuing to do what you do well, you automatically open yourself up to a new range of people willing to work with your company. Rather than looking at every qualified business as a competitor, you realize they are prospective opportunities—opportunities to grow, learn, and expand both the people willing to buy from you and the people willing to augment your services and skills on different levels.
In the past few years, we have seen a significant migration toward deepening tech partnerships to drive digital transformation. The big systems integrators have long understood this with companies like Capgemini and Accenture tightly aligning with the likes of SAP, Salesforce, and Oracle to consult and deliver enterprise software solutions at scale. However, those partnerships are expanding rapidly with new relationships being forged to help enterprises scale faster and deliver on the promise of technology for complex problems. A good example of this was Splunk and HPE working together to deliver complex hybrid cloud requirements for Wells Fargo where compliance and regulatory challenges only made things more challenging. We are also seeing industry giants that compete come together to solve problems like the Microsoft, Adobe, C3.ai partnership to disrupt CRM or even Microsoft and Amazon linking up to accelerate global sustainability and climate change initiatives.
Long and short, partnerships are evolving and companies that get it, tend to see better results. Many businesses can benefit from partnerships, especially when it comes to expediting digital transformation.
Improve Your Ability to Win Customer Contracts
When it comes to winning major business contracts, the company with the broadest skillset often wins. Partnering with those who have different skills and contacts not only makes you more attractive as a company, it opens you up to new contract opportunities—ones you may never even have known about others. And it qualifies you for larger or different jobs than you would have been able to manage on your own.
The Caveats of Transformative Ecosystems
A few caveats before you head off to create a new ecosystem of partnerships for your company. First: building strong and successful tech ecosystems requires more than complementary skillsets. It requires a shared commitment to the same values. A similar culture that values co-growth and learning. That’s not something that comes easy for every company. In fact, while many realize how important business ecosystems and partnerships are, more than 50 percent of those polled said they are skeptical of them.
One way to start creating a culture that can succeed in ecosystem development is to put the customer journey at the center of everything you do. By always coming back to the customer, rather than individual sales, growth, or other competitive metrics, you will always stay on track and open to partnering with others who may do certain things better than you do. Because the truth is, your customers don’t care who is doing the work with you. They just want it to be done well.
Second, ecosystems aren’t just developed outside a company—they’re also nourished from within. Be wary of nurturing a culture so focused on competition that internal conflicts you’re your ability to create value. Always hire those with a value mindset, who are willing to align your business and customer priorities over their own personal wins. Yes, I realize the market is a competitive one. But your company will never “win” the digital transformation race if everyone within your organization wants to win the race alone.
Digital transformation is a huge, unwieldy, ongoing process. It’s no longer possible to do all of the work alone—even as a singular enterprise. If you want to make it for the long haul, find other companies who have the values you do and the skillsets you don’t.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.