As transformational IT has increasingly become a business imperative, implementation partners have been looking to strengthen their value proposition for their customers. To differentiate themselves from transactional service providers, the more proactive partners are evolving their offerings and approaches, thereby becoming more strategic than they had been in the past.\n\nWhile IT leaders can maximize the opportunity arising out of this shift by leveraging the partners\u2019 strategies and advanced capabilities, it\u2019s important for them to maintain focus on the risks. Here\u2019s a look at how implementation providers are evolving and how CIOs should approach partnering with them for mutual success.\n\nShifting to a transformation approach\n\nThere is a perceptible change in the way implementation partners are now approaching their clients as compared to earlier, and it is all about becoming a strategic partner for transformational change.\n\n\u201cA partner now enters an account with a broader area of engagement in mind. The discussions may be around a specific project with a CIO, such as implementing a typical solution like Oracle or SAP ERP, but the partner\u2019s core agenda is to bring about an extensive and comprehensive transformation of the client\u2019s IT infrastructure,\u201d says Harnath Babu, CIO at KPMG.\n\n\u201cAs the project progresses, the partner discusses the CIO\u2019s pain points and what could alleviate them. This could invariably lead to the partner\u2019s scope getting expanded into, but not limited to, managing emerging technologies, enhancing cost and operational efficiencies, bringing about automation, application development, or improving the system of records,\u201d he says. \u201cImplementation partners are clearly moving from the earlier point approach to a transformation approach.\u201d\n\nSharing an example of this as it unfolded at KPMG, Babu says, \u201cWe engaged with a system integrator to help us with L1\/L2 support. In a short time, we scaled it to L3. We found that we could also leverage the partner for managing our infrastructure. Next, we asked the partner to help us with POD development as it was a big challenge to find skilled resources,\u201d says Babu. \u201cSo, what started as an L1\/L2 service engagement, eventually led to infrastructure management and resource augmentation.\u201d\n\nThe POD, or product oriented delivery, is a software development model that entails building small, self-sufficient cross-functional teams that take care of specific requirements or tasks for a project.\n\nTakeaways for CIOs from this trend: Leveraging one partner instead of many frees up CIOs and their teams from more boilerplate deployments, allowing them to focus on what is core to the business. \u201cAn implementation partner looks at the total value generated from an account. Therefore, if a CIO gives value to the partner, the latter will reciprocate. This will give CIOs the confidence of having a strong partner behind them. There can then be a project director to manage the project on a day-to-day basis and the CIO can intervene only when there is budget or strategy involved,\u201d says Babu.\n\n \n\nBuilding Centers of Excellence \n\nWith the aim of adding value to their customers, implementation partners are increasingly realizing the importance of building technological expertise.\n\n\u201cTo keep pace with the market and stay relevant, implementation partners are building on human capital and expertise. For instance, most partners lacked competency in cloud as there wasn\u2019t much requirement related to it in the past. However, as cloud is gaining a strong traction, they have also upped the ante,\u201d says Subramanya C, global CTO at business process management company Sagility (formerly HGS Healthcare). \n\nSo, when Subramanya decided to move the company\u2019s SAP, SharePoint portal, intranet, and other applications to the cloud, he roped in a partner who had a Center of Excellence on cloud and 12 to 15 subject matter experts (SME) on the technology.\n\n\u201cPartners with such capabilities were not seen in the past,\u201d he says. \u201cMore than 100 servers had to be migrated in a few weeks. Immense planning, resources, and mitigation of risk were involved in the project. However, the partner\u2019s strong technical expertise, which formed the basis of the center of excellence, made sure that the project got completed smoothly and as per the scheduled plan,\u201d says Subramanya.\n\nTakeaways for CIOs from this trend: Although implementation partners can provide deeper expertise than they could in the past, IT leaders should not be complacent when enlisting it. \u201cFor complex projects, like ours, strong governance is required from the enterprise technology leader\u2019s end,\u201d Subramanya says. \u201cIT leaders can outsource a task or an activity to a partner and their SME, but they can\u2019t outsource their responsibilities. Therefore, we ensured a strong governance framework was in place while implementing this project. We also had our own SME working in close collaboration with the partner\u2019s experts.\u201d\n\n \n\nCollaborating with other partners\n\nThe evolution of technology, driven by modernization of applications and services, is catalyzing collaboration among system integrators.\n\nAs Archie Jackson, head of special initiatives, IT, and security at digital transformation company Incedo says, \u201cI have seen system integrators coming together to offer solutions, a trend that wasn\u2019t visible in the past. Today, products don\u2019t work in silos. One product has multiple linkages with other products, and it orchestrates and expands into other areas. For instance, a security solution today is not limited only to the network. It is connected to end point and applications, too. Therefore, one project could spill over to another. A partner, however, may not have the expertise or the bandwidth to execute everything, which leads to collaboration with other partners.\u201d\n\nIncedo was in talks with a partner some time back for implementing managed links for connectivity. The end-to-end managed service would have offered remote connectivity to access corporate network from anywhere in the world.\n\n\u201cDuring the conversations, the partner suggested he could bring another implementation partner to enhance the cybersecurity of the links. It came across as a logical fit because the links had to be secure, but I had not seen a partner collaborating with another one like this in the past,\u201d says Jackson. Takeaways for CIOs from this trend: One implementation partner bringing another partner may help a CIO, but it could also increase the cost of the project. \u201cThis is a good option only if a CIO wants to build capability. The primary partner will build his margin into the project for which he is getting the second partner, thereby increasing the cost for the CIO. If CIOs have the capacity to architect a solution more efficiently, they should do so in-house,\u201d says Jackson.