Digital transformation to elevate partnerships

In our last article in this series, we pointed out that the biggest hurdles to successful digital transformation are cultural, not technical. Go-to-market strategy, culture, and individual employees must be aligned to identify the core purpose of a transformation. Once we develop a clear picture of where we are today — and where we want to go, we can then identify, design and deploy the digital tools and processes that people can and will use to achieve this future state. Many of the people in this digital transformation equation are partners, external organisations and independent individuals who help us deliver value to our customers.

You don’t work in a vacuum

Previously, we have addressed how to align your own strategy, culture and employees. However, your business does not operate exclusively, or even primarily, as a stand-alone entity. Increasingly, business is networked rather than siloed. Unique offers are delivered to your customers through complex ecosystems, and value is not created in a top-down fashion from the centre of your company, but rather from the edge, where you gain access to new capabilities, partner your way into emerging areas of growth, and experiment with service models. 

For example IKEA + TaskRabbit collaborate to deliver and assemble furniture to appeal to a new segment of customers. IBM partners with startups to fill gaps in their offering portfolio in exchange for exposure and scale. FedEx integrates with eCommerce software maker Magento to make installation and customisation in clients’ storefronts and warehouse. In this completely new landscape, your partners’ strategies, cultures and employee experiences must align with your own — at least at key milestones and for joint activities — so you are able to work effectively together to quickly respond to opportunities before others. Then you can determine the key digital tools to support your collaboration.

It’s difficult enough to create new work practices within a single company; working across organisations amplifies the potential barriers to getting this right. However, if we see these collaborations for what they are — finite numbers of individuals coming together to achieve defined goals — it is easier to visualise how we can do this. If we create the minimum necessary alignment, we can develop the right digital environment to support cross-company teams. 

Visualising the “partner journey” helps prioritise transformation efforts


Who exactly are we talking about collaborating with externally? That depends on the unique nature of every business, their needs and opportunities. Collaborators could come from any of the following:

Customers — B2C, B2B, B2B2C, B2G, B2E, channel partners
Contingent workers — seasonal and support support, gig workers, domain experts
Startups and agencies — who depend on SaaS tools like Dropbox, Trello and Slack
Key suppliers — providers of key raw materials, components or assembly
Strategic partners — who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you to deliver solutions

Determine where to start for the greatest impact

With whom can you generate the measurable business value through digitally transformed collaborations? How do you specifically expect to create this new value? Is it with one particular supplier, or should you focus on an interaction that is repeated frequently with multiple outside parties? There are many paths to designing win-win collaboration models with select partners like those above, from innovating faster and in more targeted ways, to integrated inventory and distribution, shifting from reactive commodity relationships to proactive partnerships, and dynamic workforce and capabilities reshaping.

Once you have prioritised opportunities to innovate your collaborations with select partners, you will need to consider their size, operating models, and IT environments and policies to determine what is the right level of joint transformation that will actually work. This might mean customisation of your existing tools, developing APIs to provide greater access to each others’ data and core systems, or shifting of your IT policies to allow secure use of essential SaaS tools. Getting to the right level of transformation may also require deeper organisational analysis of partner relationships lifecycle, touch points with your company, and their common way of working and communicating in order to unlock the most joint value possible.

Collaborating with employees of both organisations lets you identify the biggest opportunities, solution requirements, and ensures successful adoption


Any successful digital transformation comes from an alignment of strategy, culture and individual employees. To achieve this beyond the boundaries of your own business requires understanding of your partner’s strategy, culture and employee motivations and ways of working. In the spirit of agile experimentation, you can start with small experiments to deliver wins for both sides that is difficult for competitors to replicate.

We can help

Is your business finding itself more deeply entwined with key partners than ever before? Do you want to explore how to analyse your opportunities to transform your collaborations with them? If you would like to discuss how we can design collaborative programs to find your opportunities, contact us:

April 4, 2019