Thanks to Emma Huff, a senior RA on our team, for this post.

When it comes to digital transformation, your service providers are not “extra hands on deck. They can and should be partners in strategic thinking and bring to the table industry best practices, creative design, operational execution, and organizational change management. The Forrester Analytics Global Business Technographics® Business And Technology Services Survey, 2019, revealed that working with service providers to accelerate digital transformation is the top transformation activity.

This survey of 1,529 global business and technology decision makers also showed challenges in key partnership areanamely, business relationships, culture, and change management. Firms are more often satisfied with the technology expertise of their partners. It’s the soft skills that fall short.

So how do you avoid getting a technically adept provider that lacks the human and organizational skills you need for transformation? The answer lies in what digitally advanced firms do. This cohort, representing 15% of all respondents’ firms in our surveyapproaches these partnerships differently and in turn is more successful in leveraging their services partners and accelerating their transformation. One key area of difference is how they choose partners. Spoiler alert: Advanced firms know that identifying a strategic partner requires more than an RFP.

So if digitally advanced companies throw the rigid RFP checklist out the window, then what do they do?

  • Put vendor selection into the hands of executive leadership. Strategic partnerships require leveling up the role of service providers to engage key company stakeholders. Digitally advanced firms are more likely to make the CEO, CDO (chief data officer), CIO, or CTO responsible for the firm’s selection of third-party providers. One US-based telco stood up a blended leadership team with its C-level executives and the service provider’s CEO, client account executive, head of digital, and head of AI to foster alignment and drive transformation progress.
  • Test cultural fit versus just the ability to check the box. Digitally advanced firms are more likely to use innovation labs, hackathons, and design-thinking workshops during the vendor selection process; beginners and intermediates rely more on traditional RFIs (requests for information)/RFPs. These modern evaluation methods test working styles, approaches to problem solving, and allow for hands-on experience with the solutions. One multinational oil and gas company told us it ran a pitch rather than a formal RFP to test creative capabilities — “They were the ones that showed up as a true creative partner, not just a technology/delivery/build partner.”

It’s time to take inventory of your strategic partnerships. Start by breaking the mindset that service providers = supplemental headcount. Your digital transformation success depends on it.