Our research in the Application Development and Management space provided tremendous insight into what makes client engagements successful. For one thing, application services clients are more influenced by familiarity with a provider than are clients securing other IT services (see Exhibit 1). Once these clients have found the right provider to work with, they’re far more likely to stick with them.
There are multiple explanations for the power of existing relationships in the application services space. The one we will be exploring is the value that collaborative partnerships provide in the complex and fast-moving digital marketplace. A mutually beneficial partnership can open new levels of value as the provider becomes an essential building block of a client’s business.
In our quest to find a relationship that had advanced to this level, we came across ThoughtWorks – a global technology company specialising in software design and delivery – who had built a successful relationship with a well-known public transport technology firm. Central to the success of this transport company is its ability to deliver customer-centric products and services directly to current and future train passengers in the United Kingdom. It was no easy task for the firm to search for a suitable solutions provider. We interviewed Pravin Thakur, the Head of Offshore Development at the transportation technology firm, who advised that the company moved over to ThoughtWorks after their previous provider failed to meet the quality and speed requirements the firm needed for its application services.
The engagement started with ThoughtWorks investigating where the firm could make improvements to its development and releases. From there, the relationship developed and ThoughtWorks became a key strategic partner. Pravin explained this simply as “working together, failing together, and learning together.”
Exhibit 1: External Service Provider Selection Criteria
Source: HfS Research 2017, n=302 IT Services Clients
“Our culture and approaches are so similar that on one occasion our CIO struggled to tell who worked for who.”
– Pravin Thakur
Culture Is Key to Building the Best Partnership
Pravin explained that ThoughtWorks’ culture and approach to work stood out in the selection process and have been a key part of the engagement’s success so far. For example, both Pravin’s company and ThoughtWorks have a strong commitment to following agile practices and therefore need to work with a provider with a similar commitment – doing so is essential for them to keep delivering cutting-edge digital services to clients.
This similarity in culture and approach has enabled the companies to combine processes and understand how each party operates. From here, they can have frank and honest conversations about solutions and how to drive services forward. Crucially, Pravin highlights the importance of working with a provider that isn’t just going to say “yes” to everything, which would lead to problems further down the line. It is the ability of both firms to closely work together tackling business challenges that allows them to unlock the next level of value in engagements – moving from a basic transactional model to a collaborative one in order to deliver the required outcome.
“Over nine years we have moved from a five-month time-to-market average to delivering an average of 10 releases a day.”
– Pravin Thakur
It is in this spirit of collaboration and shared approach that ThoughtWorks has become an essential part of the firm’s business model and, according to Pravin, it has been tough even for CIOs to tell the different teams apart.
Opening New Levels of Productivity
Describing a mutually beneficial and collaborative partnership is nice, but what does this really translate to? For a technology company like Pravin’s, this needs to be faster releases that push customer-centric services to customers.
It was this business imperative that led Pravin and other senior executives to initiate a series of developments with ThoughtWorks that transformed the development and management of applications across the business. The first challenge to overcome was bringing together the decentralised and disparate development efforts across the business’s global footprint. According to Pravin, the disconnected teams caused significant challenges: “Our team in London might release something, but the team in Bangalore may not have been aware of it, which caused problems with support and management.” Improving the limited communication between these teams was essential to keeping the technology-based business model at the top of its game.
Improving communication and bringing the teams together with the support of ThoughtWorks enabled the firm to dramatically reduce an average to-market time for its applications from five months down to between six and twelve weeks. While this improvement in release time allowed the firm to take the next step in its journey, the strong partnership with its provider ensured that work didn’t stop and the firms continued to explore efficiencies such as implementing automation technologies to reduce testing times, which could often take up to half of the overall development time.
Crucially, as more efficiencies were identified and new technologies were intelligently deployed, the firm was able to shift its approach away from pulling together and centralising development teams to instead supporting structured decentralisation. According to Pravin, this approach has enabled the firm to accelerate development to an average of 10 releases a day.
The role of ThoughtWorks throughout this transformation was central to success according to Pravin. “A key part of the ThoughtWorks approach is continuous delivery. They worked with us on this and built the necessary foundations to ensure everyone had an understanding of ownership, approach, and the outcomes we’re trying to achieve.”
In summary, Pravin noted that his company has been through an enormous amount of business and technological change and has more than doubled its revenue. At every step, ThoughtWorks was present – “from upgrading the technology stack to developing a digital platform, to helping the firm turn huge amounts of data into price-prediction and marketing insight.” The client-provider partnership has helped the firm navigate a highly competitive digital landscape and in the process, has “enriched both parties considerably.”
Ownership and Knowledge Transfer Are the Secrets to Success
“For us, the key to success is the strong mechanism we have developed to transfer knowledge across the organization and build a strong sense of ownership with stakeholders.”
– Pravin Thakur
Our interview with Pravin and the team at ThoughtWorks provided us with a wealth of valuable insight about how a well thought out and mutually beneficial partnership can help businesses succeed in what can be a complex and often turbulent digital marketplace. From this, we were able to distil the following three recommendations that can help other firms make the most out of their relationships with providers and help shift from a transactional approach to one that enriches both parties.
- Build mechanisms that clearly outline ownership and support knowledge transfer: It’s often challenging in complex business environments to keep communication and knowledge transfer open and efficient. However, this is one of the areas upon which this relationship pins a lot of its success. Pravin and the team at ThoughtWorks developed mechanisms making certain that ownership of development work is outlined, which ensured not only that knowledge was transferred to the right stakeholders but also that those stakeholders could develop a passion and commitment to their work.
- Build a positively charged environment: Building a collaborative environment is challenging, even more so when work is shifting to and from a provider. However, Pravin argues you need to build a positively charged environment by ensuring all teams understand the value of the engagement and their individual contribution to its success.
- Build an open and frank relationship with providers: The open and frank relationship described in this report is supported by the shared culture across the client and vendor business. However, this is essential to the success of all engagements. For Pravin, the fact that ThoughtWorks stakeholders were willing to say “no” enabled them to have candid discussions that could get to the root of challenges, breaking down an otherwise transactional approach that can lead to challenges further down the road. Ensuring communication channels are open and, crucially, developing an environment where all parties can openly share experience and knowledge is key to taking engagements to the next level.
Bottom Line: Everybody Wants Partnerships, but Building True Partnerships is Hard Work
Clients and providers need to take engagements to the next level to ensure they are reaching new heights of value and are able to compete and survive in the fast-paced digital landscape.