Regardless of industry, organisations are having to be agile and evolve rapidly to keep pace with the fast rate at which technology is innovating. "Acknowledging that no one company can be all things to all people, we're increasingly seeing partnerships between players in the ICT space that will enable them to meet clients' changing demands and requirements," says Debbie Lane, Product Manager at Sizwe Africa IT Group.
IT is evolving constantly, and all businesses are having to evolve to keep up. This is where the value of partnerships comes to the fore. The IT industry is seeing a shift towards providing services and solutions and not just products. By creating a partnership between two organisations that are each the best in their field, together they can offer their clients so much more.
In addition, the move towards providing software-driven services is encouraging partnerships that enable the provision of a holistic end-to-end solution, instead of one provider having to patch together technology from an assortment of vendors.
Lane says: "Partnerships in general are key to the IT industry, no one can do everything; for example, we have to partner with OEMs in order to meet the requirements of our contracts with clients. The majority of our clients insist on a high level of partnership because they are aware that it means we have sufficient trained and certified employees to support them properly.
"Having an ally at your side in the form of a strategic partner will benefit your organisation because it enables you to offer your clients skill sets and product lines that set you apart from the competition."
What goes into a partnership?
Maintaining partnerships is crucial and intensive as it requires having an entire team focused on that partnership. "The team has to ensure we're in line with all of the requirements laid down by the partner, such as participating in continuous learning, acquiring certifications and specialisations, proving that the helpdesk is running, ensuring programmes and promotions are used effectively so that we make the most out of our margins, quoting correctly, and ensuring our certifications are current and up to date."
It's clear that being a high-ranking partner of an OEM is a lot more than simply a box-ticking exercise; there's a substantial amount of work required at the back end. Lane continues: "Every year we have to run through audits with our partners, either in person or via webex. If we meet all of their criteria, we're automatically renewed annually, but every third year we're subjected to a fully fledged audit."
Lane says project management is a key element in ensuring client projects run smoothly, and as such, is one of the key elements of a partnership audit. "In fact, it covers everything from pre-sales, engineering right through to the actual installation, the management and support provided to clients during installation, as well as maintenance and support post installation."
She goes on to explain that OEMs impose very strict levels of compliance to ensure that clients receive a consistently high standard of service. "Nine times out of 10, clients will blame the product if the service is unsatisfactory, so it's in the OEM's interests to ensure that its partners' employees are properly certified, trained and supported."
All parties reap the rewards
The right partnerships benefit the supplier, the vendor and the client, says Lane. In fact, clients are driving strong and effective partnerships by choosing to partner with vendors that can provide good service and support them properly. "They want the peace of mind of knowing that their equipment will work, and as such need access to a supplier that will support them from a technology, fault finding and replacement of faulty equipment point of view. After-sales support is key."
"Over and above having access to a reliable product that we can present to clients with confidence, we're able to obtain preferential treatment for us and our clients from the supplier because we maintain a high level of compliance with their standards when it comes to audit time.
"It also means that we have very skilled technical people within our organisation because of our partner's insistence on upskilling and certification."
Lane emphasises that maintaining these partnerships is very much a team effort. "Not only do you have individuals who are studying and doing their certifications and specialising, you also have those at the back end who are making sure that all of the relevant boxes are ticked so that we're ready for those annual audits. It's almost a daily exercise to keep up with the requirements."
With Sizwe obtaining the various ISO certifications, it has assisted us to go through the stringent auditing processes from the OEM. This in turn will benefit the entire business, says Lane, and not just the division that's relevant to that particular partnership. "Everyone in the value chain benefits from the right strategic partnerships being implemented and maintained."
Three things that make a good partnership
Finally, we asked Lane to identify three characteristics to consider when choosing a partner. She responded with the following:
1. It's important that the supplier must have strong relevant strategy and message, they must have a vision and understand where they want to go.
2. They must have reliable and innovative products that stay abreast of market developments.
3. Post-sales support is very important as that reflects on us too; we must be able to deliver the service that we commit to.
Sizwe Africa IT Group recently has just become a gold certified Cisco partner for the ninth consecutive year. http://sizwegroup.co.za/node/234