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Choice partner

CNME asked CIOs to name and explain the elements that they believed made for a strong partnership. Here’s what they had to say.

When choosing a partner, we usually look into the integrator’s qualifications – are they gold partners, or certified by the manufacturer or other agencies. Is the partner well-known in the local market, their success history, references and number of locally available expertise.

When asked about what makes for a great partnership Bastaki responds, “Our partnership with Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Avaya and F5 has allowed us to develop a corporate infrastructure that leverages present-day solutions to build a foundation for future and cloud computing.  They understand our needs and know what it takes to accomplish our goals.”

He names limited resources, standards and SLAs for level two support, proactive recommendations, working closely with other partners and proactively leveraging full systems/applications capabilities as some challenges faced by them.

“To ensure a long term lasting partnership, both parties should recognise the importance of continuously reinforcing support approaches and pay attention to factors such as technical knowledge transfer, documentation, innovation, flexibility, quality, costs/benefits/savings, coaching, awareness, SLAs and so on,” says Bastaki.

He names Oracle, GBM, CNS, Avaya, Alpha Data, ITQAN, Wipro, Mahindra Satyam, Fujitsu Siemens, Emitac, EMC, STME, ComputerLinks, EMW, Microsoft, F5, Atos Origin, eHosting DataFort, SecureWay, Beta and HCL as some of the best integration partners DSOA has worked with in the recent past

“The first thing I look for in choosing any integration partner is the organisation’s market standing. The other factors which are seriously considered are the focus area/core expertise and the overall approach of the integration partners while dealing with the customers,” says Tewary.

He continues, “The basis for good partnership is the mutual understanding of each other’s requirements. The common objective between the integration partner and the customer should be to create a win-win model, thereby enriching each other in all possible domains and establishing credibility in the industry.”

He names the biggest challenge as the lack of other comparable projects and comparatively small industry size. Some partners have a very narrow, short-term approach, which also hampers the growth of a relationship.

“The regional integration partner can make partnership more relevant by strategically planning higher investments in R&D within their organisation, which eventually would enable them to effectively suggest and implement the best practices. This would also give them a broader outlook and industry understanding. Partners can add value to any organisation by taking a holistic approach rather than being only commercially driven. The integration partner can also add value by drawing the knowledge and based practices from international organisations,” says Tewary.

He names GBM as one of the best integration partners EKFC has worked
with recently.

“I look for specific subject-matter skills, experience, flexibility, support and price when looking for an integration partner. The drive, enthusiasm, high-standards and flexibility to deliver in line with OSN’s expectations is key to a great partnership. This almost always means we push the boundaries of the integration partner, but that also means they come out as a stronger team,” says Wijne.

As for challenges, Wijne believes that some partners are really just order-takers, who happen to have a gold certification. Some others struggle to meet international standards.

“The biggest change I would like to see from integration partners is if they could start offering opex-models rather than only capex-models. Some partners have already pro-actively started offering this and I think it will be of great benefit to them and the SI-market,” says Wijne.

“I would like our partners to invest time and money to truly understand our business model. Some of the best partners that we have worked with would include BIOS ME, EMW, Servion and KIT-Digital,” Wijne adds.

“Good business values, a proven track record, an existing business relationship, reliability, technical/business development expertise, and good value for money are some key elements in choosing a systems integrator,” says Zaidi.

According to Zaidi, projects are successful if they are planned and implemented as per an organisation’s project management methodology, which should be somehow adapted by the integrator. A Good communication plan, including formal feedback process immediately after the project ends, and a proper risk management plan are vital.

“The greatest challenge is lack of expertise and agility, we have a lot of partners that do work on multiple technologies and tend to lose focus on a particular technology as soon as a good resource departs the organisation. It’s hard to replace good human resources in the region as well,” he adds.

Zaidi says, “Partners have a role to play from start to the end of any engagement. A simple tip will be to build good internal teams, including sales, pre-sales and technical consultants that complement each other and also have the capacity to make the client feel and become part of the team. The other tips are flexibility, professionalism, eagerness to go an extra mile, and to under commit and over deliver to the client.”

Our best integration partners include Emitac, MDS and Inobits.

“We look for clarity in vision, strategies and objectives in the local market, continuous engagement of executive management, desire to make long-term business relationships, regional technical support capability as well as flexibility and ability to understand special circumstances that force clients to request urgent solutions, products and support, when we are choosing an integration partner,” says AlBakri.

While focused effort to achieve business strategies is essential for a great partnership, inability to build proper understanding of client environments, drivers and pain points, an instable workforce and management, weakness in adhering to SLAs, and focus on the commercial aspect as opposed to building true business value, are named as potential challenges.

AlBakri states that partners can make his life easier by thinking of a business model where rewards can be linked to the success of their solutions in the business environment.

In giving tips to partners AlBakri states, “Be more direct, clearly state what is of critical importance, understand client’s business models and challenges, and avoid treating clients as mere sources of revenue, without worrying too much about the failure of business to adopt technical solutions.”

He names IBM, TSC, Wipro and SAP as some of the best integration partners to work with.

“You need to select a partner with a strong record of success in similar integration projects, competent with in-depth technical and functional knowledge, having genuine commitment to customer’s success, and possessing great flexibility in managing scope variations,” says Awienat.

He continues, “A great partnership requires a win-win strategy. If all parties realise and respect the others’ right to benefit in a way or the other from this partnership, then this will lead to great results and sustainable partnership. On the other hand, I have witnessed many customers who are very demanding and constantly going beyond logical limits. They mandate unrealistic deadlines even when it is not really urgent, scope changes are the norm for them, and yet expect the integration partner to always have the magical solutions at no additional cost nor delays in schedule.”

Awienat says that Qatar Foundation faces challenges in getting the right subject-matter experts within the region. Most of the partners have sales-oriented organisations in the GCC with few technical/functional experts in the region. They rely heavily on their global pool of resources and subcontracting.

“Partners can make life easier for us by focusing on long-term partnerships rather than just quick-wins that meet sales targets. And this can be achieved by doing more investment in understanding the customers’ needs and priorities, educating the customers with new trends and offerings that could add value to them,” says Awienat.

He adds, “Each organisation has unique requirements and needs. Trying to impose one standard offering on all organisations is simply going to lead to failure. I urge integration partners to always try to understand the nature/priority of each organisation and to fill some of the knowledge gaps within the customer’s staff.”

Awienat names Microsoft and EMC as partners with leadership abilities and ground-breaking strategy initiatives.

Oommen looks for reliability, technical competence, quality of service delivery and price when choosing an integration partner.

“Consistent track record of performance exceeding customer expectations is the foundation for great partnerships. Behaviours based on ethics, trust and mutual respect from both sides will help to cement successful and long-term partnerships. The partner should be willing to invest with the customer long term and deliver consistent service levels,” says Oommen.

Short-term commitment of partners for this region, attrition rate of key resources, adequacy of investment in terms of resources and infrastructure are the challenges faced by Al Batha Group.

“Just like their customers, regional partners should maintain long-term loyalty for this region and it can make long-term partnerships. They should understand the business requirements of the customers which will help to deliver more successful projects. Partners also should forge strong partnerships with principals (leading hardware and software vendors) at the regional level. Quite often, their international partnerships are not converted into similar partnerships at regional level which will add more value and less problems for customers,” says Oomen.

HP and IBM are the best integration partners that Al Batha has worked with, according to Oommen.

“The key is passion to work with customers, because not all partners have the mindset to be solution based. Technical skills and subject-matter expertise are the next key components in making a choice. Previous experience of working in the region are also critical elements in choosing a partner,” states Rizvon.

Skills, transparency and leadership are necessary elements for a great partnership, according to Rizvon. He adds that disconnection from pre-sales and post-sales, and limited functional skills are some of the major challenges faced by KOJ in working with partners.

“Regional partners should think of the relationship from a long-term perspective and not just as an on-off sales opportunity. They should have a solutions approach, have the right costing and keep in house subject matter experts. In the last 18 months Infogain, Zensar and Accel Frontline are the best integration partners we have worked with,” says Rizvon.

“What I look for when choosing an integration partner is professionalism of the company, technical resources within that company, history of delivering similar type projects on time and on budget so basically references I can contact to discuss their experiences with the integration partner. To do this at Abu Dhabi university we have a strict procurement process to select an integration partner. In fact for any project the same process is followed,” says Moore.

He adds, “One of the  biggest  challenges I find is that the staff involved during the RFP process tend to be of very high quality, but the staff disappear during the implementation step of the project and lower skilled staff are used. These new lower skilled staff tend to take more time to get up to speed on the project since they were not involved initially and they do not have the overall technical skills  needed. To mitigate this risk we now include in the RFP that the staff involved in the RFP are involved in the project.”

Partners should provide updates on time, and meet customers regularly in order to make enterprise clients lives easier, says Moore.

“One of the tips I can give to an integration partner is to stick to delivery dates. Any missed deadlines can have a massive impact on an organisation and this can affect profits. Another tip which is related to my first tip is do not hide issues as they come up, rather communicate them and a plan can be made to resolve those issues,” says Moore.

“The two partners who have stood out over the last 18 months are BIOS ME and OfficePlus. These two companies help Abu Dhabi university with two projects and they exhibited the qualities I look for in a partner,” he concludes.

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