Is Your Service Provider A Partner Or A Vendor?

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Brad-ThompsonOver the past decade, I have been directly or indirectly involved in thousands of software implementations and IT projects. Most succeed; some fail. While any number of circumstances can lead to an unsuccessful project, one theme runs throughout: a lack of partnership between the organization and its provider. With 2015 IT spending on enterprise software up 5.5% over 2014, according to Gartner, there is much at stake from the very beginning. New technologies are emerging, promising differentiation, efficiency and better customer service. The big question becomes, how do you know you’re signing up with a true partner who will help you succeed?

Platform replacement is expensive. In my experience, 90% of project failures occur when the software provider is seen as nothing more than a vendor. When this happens, things are bound to fail. The next step organizations take, logically, is to begin looking for their next vendor. “Are we looking for a partner or a vendor?” ought to be the first question asked at the beginning of every search. The answer often determines the project’s destiny. This might seem simple, but the partner/vendor distinction is a multi-layered issue that should be discussed with, and agreed upon by, every member of the team. Deciding that a partner is needed means getting far more from your software provider.

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There are several ways to work through an implementation project with a software provider. One takes the purchasing organization’s approach: Do it our way. On the other end of the spectrum is to completely abandon all existing practices in favor of vendor-designed processes. Neither approach produces satisfactory results; in fact, both approaches are likely to lead to failed implementations. That’s because both of these scenarios approach the project without regard to best practices both the organization and the software firm bring to the table. Neither approach accepts the fact that both bring essential ideas to the project. The result, all too often, is mutual frustration.

I recommend embracing the partnership approach. This approach has both the organization – in our case, lenders – and its chosen provider working together to maximize platform investment. Implementing new technologies to support nothing but old practices minimizes investment return. The same can be said for attempting to go live with all new processes.

Meeting in the middle produces the best result because it recognizes that both parties bring great ideas to the project. The lender knows its own business better than anyone. The software provider knows its software best, and the best technology experts know the industry extremely well, too. We meet with lenders constantly, implement systems daily and study lending performance regularly. True partnership implementations and subsequent go-lives are an amalgam of experience. They also help lenders realize value from their technology investment, with such value including customer experience, efficiency and compliance improvement.

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Are you ready to partner? Is your provider?

I’ve made the case for partnership; it’s the way our firm works with our clients. We see it as a win/win approach, especially for the client. How do you look at your vendor relationships? Here are some key questions to ask:

Are your providers treating you like you treat your customers?

Great partnerships continue long past implementation and long past go-live. Great customer service, for example, seems simple, but is often overlooked. Handling the simple things like returning phone calls, providing quick answers and sending follow-up emails make all the difference. Going above and beyond for customers should be standard operating procedure in a true partnership.

Lenders should expect to be treated by their providers the same way the lenders themselves treat their borrowers – meeting each individual’s unique needs, while having open lines of communication throughout the process. Assuming that’s true, then you already have a great foundation and should start leveraging that right away to build on the partnership.

Is your provider offering you solutions or just products and services?

Offering products is the easy part. Transitioning to services is the next, slightly more difficult step. Providing solutions is the giant leap, one that can truly transform a business. Not many providers have the ability or the desire to do this. Many providers are quite satisfied with a client that is on auto-pilot. They know the relationship can’t last forever, but will do just enough to keep the status quo for as long as possible or until they are no longer addressing business needs. Are you on auto-pilot? The quick test is anticipation: when your provider is keeping you ahead of the market and regularly coming to you with new ideas, you’ve got a forward-looking partnership.

Providers can truly enhance your business and make it better by working with you as partners. True partners will continue to improve, not only for your business but for all the businesses they serve. When leveraged correctly, partners can, and should, become an extension of your business, working as trusted advisors focused on making your business better.

I was recently a part of one of the most successful client partnerships in the history of our organization. Accenture Mortgage Cadence successfully completed a massive software implementation for a top retail lender just last month. Choosing to purchase and implement a commercial application, instead of enhancing and upgrading their internal proprietary application, was a difficult and risky decision for them.

This client had held complete source code control of their internal application for many years, so the prospect of giving up that control and moving to a commercial application was daunting, to say the least. They also needed this implementation done in time for TRID, a massive undertaking for any lender, let alone for one of this size. In under 10 months, we were able to deploy our core application, with multiple internal integrations; train and on-board more than 2800 users nationwide; and, as of last month, roll 100% of their volume onto the platform.

In describing this assignment, I use the words “we” and “our” on purpose, and not simply as a reference to my organization. The client and Accenture did the work together, as partners. Was it easy? Of course not. There were some very challenging hurdles along the way, and many times we both thought we were trying to accomplish the impossible, but we were successful through our partnership. Together, we overcame all of the reasons why this project should not have worked.

How did we deliver this monumental project in such a short amount of time? We did it by starting off on the right foot. Before we even signed contracts, we did something that I have rarely seen happen: We talked about our partnership. We talked about it a lot. I had many different people from the client tell me, “We want to be your partner” and “We want to help make your business and product better.”

We discussed and agreed upon communication methods, project methodologies, change management and escalation processes. I know that many of these things seem like standard discussions in any project, but what was not standard was that the discussion focused on both the client and on us. The client gave Accenture as much say and input in each of these areas as they had.

We even went so far as to discuss travel and the impact that it would have on the personal lives of those working on the project. Much to my surprise, the client suggested that they travel to our offices to work on this project as much as they expected us to travel to theirs. Their reasoning? It was only fair that they ask their people to be on the road and away from their personal lives as much as they were expecting us to be.

We (Accenture, that is) had the ability to escalate and change as often as needed to keep things on track and be successful. We were not relegated to being simply a vendor. We were a trusted advisor, and this client truly embraced the partnership approach. We had — and still have — a seat at the table. Because of all of these things, this partnership continues to thrive and grow.

Business is hard enough without the additional stress of using service providers that don’t share your same vision and desire to succeed and exceed. If you find yourself struggling with your current providers or constantly find yourself in the process of looking for the next vendor, take the time to evaluate what you have today. Do you relegate these providers to vendor status? Maybe it’s time to reflect on how you approach these relationships. Do you have providers that could care less and only work to keep the work minimal? Maybe it’s time to make a change. If you find yourself somewhere in between, you have an opportunity to start out the right way with new providers and an even bigger opportunity to cultivate your current relationships into true partnerships. Your business will reap tremendous rewards, I promise.

About The Author

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Brad Thompson is EVP Client Services at Accenture Mortgage Cadence. Brad and his team are responsible for overseeing the client management, technical implementation, document compliance and business development for Accenture Mortgage Cadence. Prior to joining Accenture Mortgage Cadence, Brad served as the Director of Financial Services for 3t Systems where he was responsible for managing and delivering IT consulting services to the financial sector spanning small regional banks to large multi-national financial institutions.