Sooner or later, every organization that purchases technology (hardware, software and/or services) will be faced with the need to transition to a new supplier. No matter what the reason – better quality, stronger security, higher reliability, increased power, lower cost, etc. – transitions usually involve some measure of risk … and therefore require careful management.
The good news is that most suppliers are intimately familiar with the transition process. They have experience as a loser (when a customer has selected a competitors solution over their own) and a winner (when they have displaced an incumbent). This helps them build a body of knowledge and understanding of the transition process and use this to develop well-defined methodologies and procedures.
The bad news is that, although transitions are an every-day (or at least frequent) activity for suppliers, this is not the case for technology buyers where they are a relatively rare occurrence.
While buyers can and should lean on the experience of the supplier, it’s important that they do not completely abdicate responsibility for the process. After all, suppliers aren’t infallible and they do make errors. Nor are they unbiased and will structure any transition to favor their own interests. As such, it’s important for the buyer to do everything in their power to ensure that a transition proceeds smoothly and efficiently with the absolute minimum of disruption. The larger and more complex the transition, the more important it is to actively manage the process.
At Integris Applied, we have decades of experience supporting and facilitating transitions – from single supplier upgrades to large-scale multi-supplier solutions that completely redefine the technology landscape of our clients. I’ve personally learnt that no matter what the reason for the transition, or even the type of transition, there are a few techniques that significantly increase the chances of a successful outcome.
- Get to the detail as early as possible. Even simple transitions can have a surprising number of ‘moving parts’, which is why the sooner you start thinking about it, the better. Starting early means less chance that a critical element will be left to the last minute or, even worse, overlooked. Transition plan detail should be a key focus from the outset, not something to consider after the deal is inked.
- Define the scope and structure of the transition. Although performance level agreements are built into any new supplier agreement, they usually cover the final outcome rather than the journey to that outcome. The transition process is frequently less clearly defined with the inevitable result that misunderstandings creep in. Before starting any transition clearly define who is responsible for what, so that everybody at all levels understands their role and responsibility. Be especially wary of any mention of a 6-month transition (which is common with IT projects). This is often a warning sign of poorly designed scope and/or inadequately defined deliverables.
- Get personal about dedicated personnel. There can be a lot of people involved in the transition process, but two are particularly critical. The transition leader is a single point of contact with overall responsibility for success. He or she needs to have excellent communication skills, appropriate seniority and the bandwidth (and ability) to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. The best transition leaders are fully empowered and can reach inside their organization to get the right people, and the right permissions to get the job done. The transition leader should be supported by an effective project manager. This person shares the workload by undertaking tracking, monitoring and oversight of day-to-day activities, flagging issues or concerns before they become major problems. To be effective, this role needs to be as much about being proactive, as it is about being reactive.
- Involve and inform internal stakeholders. In all transitions there will be some key groups that will have a direct interest in the outcome of the project. It’s important that they are kept informed and, wherever possible, directly involved in any critical decisions that need to be made. The more involved stakeholders are, the easier it is to build consensus and support.
- Develop a culture of shared responsibility. Successful transitions are in everybody’s interest and it’s important to drive shared responsibility and accountability. The most effective transitions have fully integrated buyer-supplier teams that work together as a single unit. When issues arise, as they inevitably will, instead of looking to apportion blame integrated teams work together to rapidly establish solutions.
- Establish transition phases. Even small transitions have innate complexities and risks. Applying good project management skills, such as breaking a project down into defined and measurable phases, increases manageability, reduces risk and builds momentum. Phasing should be designed to facilitate clear and actionable check-points – to protect the integrity of the process and the quality of the outcome.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Clear communication is a characteristic of all good initiatives, and with multiple interested parties, this is especially true for transition programs. Clear, open and transparent communication breaks down organizational silos, builds trust and fosters collaboration.
The reality is that transitioning from one supplier to another is never easy. . Embracing the seven techniques described above is a great step towards managing and minimizing those issues.
– Gerardo Fernandez, Dec 2018 – [bio]