Outsourcing any type of IT project may seem like a leap of faith. Will your outsourcing partner have your back at all times? Or will the engagement stall for one reason or another?
It’s not always easy to model how a new partnership will go. Because too many factors are at play:
- The IT outsourcing partner’s service model
- Your operational readiness for outsourcing
- Clarity in project vision and requirements
- Overall experience with leading any sort of strategic partnerships
The truth is: there’s no “IT outsourcing done right” shortcut or cookie-cutter template to use. But there are some marginally right and wrong ways to structure collaboration with outsourced partners. That’s what we want to talk about in this post.
IT Outsourcing Partner or Outsourcing Vendor: What’s The Difference?
“Vendor”, “managed services provider”, “technology partner”, IT companies (us included) brand themselves under different names. But what really stands behind them?
What is an outsourcing vendor?
A vendor is a business entity, offering a solution to your problem here and now. Most have highly-scoped, pain-point-specific offerings. Need a cloud-based identity management tool? Purchase this service plan. Looking to improve your threat monitoring capabilities? We’ll analyze your infrastructure, right-size the software solution, and assist with the roll-out.
What is an outsourcing partner then?
The role of an outsourcing partner is to deliver continuous value by combining various types of services. Rather than walking in to solve one problem, a partner acts as an extension of your business, adapting their service delivery in line with your evolving business needs and priorities.
A sounding board for new technical ideas, an advisor on better talent acquisition and IT operations scaling, a skeptic not afraid of pushing back on the unfeasible propositions — a reputable outsourcing partner plays all of those roles.
How Can You Make IT Outsourcing Successful: 4 Approaches
Like any relationship, strong IT outsourcing partnerships don’t emerge in a day. It’s a continuous process with an awkward “getting to know you phase”, proactive “I think I get where you going” period, to final alignment when “I can finish the sentence you’ve started”.
Yes, you are cultivating a business relationship. But it is still a relationship where soft factors such as trust, good communication, and mutual understanding of shared goals are crucial for success.
So how do you create a successful outsourcing partnership?
Treat an outsourcing partnership as a long-term investment. Be proactive at the early stages of the engagement process — share the essential project information, discuss your current priorities and long-term plans. Then assess your internal processes and tweak them to accommodate the new partner. Decide on the scope of responsibilities on both ends, set KPIs, and always find extra time for communication and re-alignment.
That’s the short general approach. Below are several more specific partnership management strategies our company and our clients have found to work well.
1. Take Advantage of the “Trial” Period
Many partnerships start small. That’s perfectly fine to be cautious and do a “test-drive” before going high-speed galore.
During the first several months of any new engagement, we try to find the same footing with you. You get to learn our strengths — we get settled into your way off work. We test if we can deliver on the goals you set and build the foundational infrastructure for supporting you.
Communication here plays a vital role. In our case, we prefer to have a semi-formal communication plan — a timeline for regular check-ins to discuss your experience with us, address and resolve common issues, and figure out ways how we can do better. Structured and proactive communication helps us understand if we are a good fit together.
The early stages of collaboration are also a “grace period” for both you and the vendor. It’s a stage where you need to decide if the cooperation is worth continuing.
Your outsourcing partner has to understand:
- How do you define the “success” of the engagement?
- What’s going to happen next if all expectations are met?
Understandably, you may not be in the sole position to decide on upscaling an engagement. Other stakeholders may need more persuasion. If we are aware of such dynamics, we can help you secure that “buy-in” by modeling different collaboration scenarios, stacking service models, or committing to providing a certain level of service by a specific date.
Proactive communication of your expectations plus longer-term plans is the pillar of any successful strategic partnership model. Take it from Robert Alvarez, COO & CFO of BigCommerce, our former client: “We brought [Edvantis team] on for an aggressive product roadmap. Over time, they took on more and more responsibilities, especially around our payment integrations, our payments partners, and became integrated with our team. [At peak capacity], we worked with between 30–50 people.”
This engagement worked because BigCommerce progressively integrated Edvantis’ resources into their operations and treated the remote team as equal to internal ones. As Robert Alvarez further notes, “The bigger the project, the more engaged they were. Unlike some other teams I’ve worked with, they want to be challenged.”
2. Communicate Your Business Dynamics
Every business goes through a series of ups and downs. The markets go into flux. Investment budgets get re-assigned. Funding rounds are delayed. Or you finally release the big-ticket product and decide to switch to maintenance mode.
We recognize such dynamics. In fact, it was one of the reasons why we decided to create flexible, stackable outsourcing service models — such that allow you to obtain the expertise you need at any step of your project lifecycle, at the capacity you need.
The wrinkle is that we cannot tweak our services on abysmally short notice. Given how heated the IT staff augmentation market is, we can’t commit to upscaling a team of two into a team of twenty within a fortnight.
To benefit from “flexibility” we need to understand your current impediments and future business drivers. This means you have to be proactive in sharing your plans with us.
After all, we are in the business of supplying the expertise. Top talent won’t sit idle on the market — they will move on to the next best project. Yet, if we know your plans, we can better plan for the “slowdown” or “de-transition” period. For example, retain some of the core people to help with project handover or maintenance.
In most cases, the decision to change gears always happens earlier than the actual change. By keeping us in the loop, we’d be in a better position to support you through the next chapter.
3. Use Partner’s Knowledge to Grow Your Expertise
A good partner complements your expertise. You are adept in your business domain — we have the technical expertise and accumulated experience of project delivery practices.
Sure, you are seeking an outsourcing partner to solve a specific problem. However, when the hot-button issue is taken care of, you can also seek to gain extra value. For example:
- Get to know the local outsourcing marketing
- Pick up new SDLC best practices
- Hone your outsourcing process
- Get in a better shape for managing distributed operations
As one of our clients, Randy Ramirez of Benchwatch notes: “Be specific in what you’re asking from them. When we relay that information, they can contribute to thinking through the problem. In the end, they often find things that I didn’t address. That helps me get the most out of working with Edvantis.”
Remember, an IT outsourcing partner isn’t meant to fully replace your key people — we are here to augment them. We understand that there will always be a dependency on us. So we take the necessary steps to ensure that all the important knowledge is well-documented and can be easily transferred back to your team.
The above also prevents you from being too informationally locked internally. That is when all your expertise is held by a handful of in-house specialists, who too may want to change employers at some point. By diversifying your knowledge and operational best practices between the internal and external resources you can get a trifecta of benefits:
- Have a strong strategic in-house project vision and managerial task force
- Obtain extra resources from a vendor with a higher price-to-value-ratio
- Opt for the buy-operate-transfer option at any time you feel ready
By combing internal and external expertise you can run leaner, less disruption-prone operations, while also tapping into your partner’s knowledge whenever you face a roadblock. Use our experience — we know how and why things fail and what could be done to prevent that.
4. Consider Tailored Staffing
Another underlooked perk of a continuous relationship with an outsourcing partner is that you can set them up to supply you with talent on an ongoing basis.
For example, if you need specific expertise, we can set up a local training center for you to engage young talent from the local market and train them, based on your needs. In this case, you not only gain a steady influx of new hires at relatively short notice but also protect your business from talent gaps.
It’s a common scenario when a Big Tech firm lands in a new market and sweeps most of the available IT talent. As Bain data from 2021 suggests hyperscalers — Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft — are taking away the majority of talent:
In 2020, when most businesses were getting their act together and cutting costs, Facebook hired extra 10,000 product and engineering employees, while Amazon sought to fill over 20,000 tech roles.
As a smaller company, you may not be in a shape to compete with such behemoths. But you can choose not to engage in the talent wars with them and build a “backup” talent pipeline with the help of an outsourcing partner.
Cultivating a successful IT outsourcing partnership is a “learning by doing” experience. It requires intentional commitment and focuses from your end, as well as proactivity and transparency from your partner’s end. Recognize each other’s strengths, stay open to suggestions and propositions, give your partner the room and space to voice out their suggestions, and inquire about your plans. Such as a degree of “openness” takes time to cultivate, but the ROI from it can exceed your boldest projections.
Contact Edvantis to learn more about our IT partnership principles and approaches to collaboration.