14 Jan 2021 —

How to find the right professional services partner for your digital transformation

Most traditional systems integrators provide cloud-specific professional services, many of which are tailored for particular vertical industries, such as education, retail, and financial services. But many large telecoms providers now have their own professional services organisations too, and with infrastructure and application vendors also offering cloud-specific consulting, businesses face an increasingly perplexing choice when it comes to finding the right partner.

So what should a business look for when deciding which professional services provider to work with, and what are the pitfalls to be avoided?


The catalyst of digital transformation

A widely-shared meme asks:

Who led the digital transformation of your company?

  1. CEO
  2. CTO
  3. Covid-19

And the answer is always C. While this is a tongue-in-cheek assessment, it contains more than a kernel of truth. 

It’s hard to argue against the notion that the coronavirus pandemic has led to the largest and swiftest investment in technology by businesses to enable them to run – and thrive – in a world where the workplace and the way people consume IT has been altered drastically, and perhaps permanently.

The evidence for this pandemic-driven shift comes from more than anecdotes. A recent study by Studio Graphene revealed that almost half (46%) of those surveyed said that Covid-19 had resulted in ‘the most radical digital transformation in their existence.’ Gartner predicts by 2025 more than 75% of large organisations will turn to external consultants to develop their cloud strategies (up from 40% in 2019), and 85% will engage external service providers to migrate applications to the cloud (up from 43% in 2019).

And while the current global situation has merely accelerated the journey along a path that most businesses were already on, there’s a risk it could lead to rush-job implementations. This can lead to mistakes, poor capital allocation or, worse, the sunk cost fallacy gaining a foothold in a company, where management will continue to throw resources at a solution that has no hope of addressing the problem. But it also provides a valuable opportunity to take stock of what was done at speed to respond to the initial wave of Covid and identify best practices learnings. As such, the need for professional services that span an enterprise’s networking, communications and cloud requirements, and always with security as standard, has arguably never been greater.


Outsource your problem, not your responsibility

As previously mentioned, nearly every part of the technology supply chain offers professional services. So how can those who are responsible for a business’s digital transformation make the right decisions about the technology they need and who can provide the right guidance to support them, when they are under more pressure to deliver at pace than ever before? Quite simply, they should think like a recruiter.

When you hire a new team member you will undoubtedly have a particular candidate in mind. Someone who meets the job description and can demonstrate ability and experience beyond their CV. When was the last time you contradicted any of those steps i.e. hired someone with no appropriate qualifications or experience, didn’t interview them or scrutinise the claims in their CV, and merely opted for the person who had the lowest salary expectation? How did that work out for you?

Let’s apply this metaphor to the procurement of professional services. Devising a thorough statement of work (job description) gives you a framework to measure partners against, and allowing them to provide the right proposal (CV). This will avoid shortlisting candidates based on hearsay and cookie-cutter solutions. Or even opting for the first provider that comes through your door and promises to take away your problems for what appears – on the face of it – to be salary expectations you find attractive.

Sometimes such SoWs are very high level and defining them more precisely requires a partnership with the provider; a little like finding a candidate with exceptional skills and then spending the initial, probationary part of their tenure co-developing their job description together.

Whatever the approach, shared responsibility is a key feature of successful partnerships with professional services providers. But – to take the recruitment metaphor further still – your employee’s performance is a reflection of you, and so is the professional services partner you entrust with your digital transformation journey. When a third party has the potential to make you a hero or a zero, you can’t afford to relinquish your position of ultimate responsibility.


The digital transformation professional services checklist

So, what should you look for in your professional services partner?

You need an experienced player, someone who can demonstrate many years of successful project delivery, specifically incorporating cloud, networking and communications technologies and methodologies.

Look for someone who speaks your language. Both literally and figuratively. Do they have experience of your sector and with businesses like yours? If you are global, are they local?

Insist upon genuinely uncovering the best solution for you, rather than being offered choices from a limited suite of services. If they have strong vendor partnerships and potentially their own proprietary technology, a professional services partner is more likely to be able to make sure the needs of your customers, employees and other stakeholders are met by the strongest and most versatile providers.

Are they true experts that you can peer with and learn from? Professional services are easier to sell than they are to deliver, and there are a host of free or low-cost tools out there that, at face value, seem to tick almost every box. But they are often hugely limited, suitable only for a certain type of business (e.g. micro or SME), and have none of the reliability assurances that are a prerequisite of being a technology-led as opposed to a technology-enabled business.


Further reading

Telefonica, working with Frost & Sullivan, has recently released a report on the pitfalls to avoid from a rushed, Covid-19-driven digital transformation, using unified communications as a service (UCaaS) as an example. The warnings apply to any cloud deployment and the lessons should be adopted by any organisation interested in harnessing the value of professional services providers without unwarranted costs, delays and risks.