The last year to 18 months has undoubtedly been brutal. But they've also been a tale of two cities. On the one hand, as organisations and individuals, we've had to hunker down to weather the storm, yet at the same time our workforces have dispersed and we can hire and work with people anywhere in the country, or even the world.
Similarly, some sectors have experienced unexpected windfalls thanks to the pandemic—sometimes this has been circumstantial, but it’s often been thanks to the ability of businesses to identify and take advantage of opportunities fast. But other industries have been decimated.
It’s time to consider whether an isolationist, inward-looking attitude will continue to serve us, or whether we should shift our focus from firefighting to focusing on a vision for the future—however erratic that future might continue to be.
According to a report, Covid-19 and the future of business from the IBM Institute for Business Value, defensiveness still prevails. Leaders will still prioritise operational capabilities over external growth for the next two years.
They’ll focus on issues such as cost management, enterprise agility, cashflow and liquidity management. All of which are undeniably important. But this focus has pushed business activities such as product development and new market entry down the list of priorities. The latter are important for improving customer experience, driving business growth, recouping the losses from the past 18 months, and moving forward.
But as I said, it’s a tale of two cities, and the same report shows an increase in plans to participate in partner networks and business ecosystems – these are up more than 300% compared to 2018. And perhaps this is how to square that particular circle, balancing the internal operational priorities with an external, customer focus.
The partnership win
Partnerships can rapidly deliver new business and ROI. They can also quickly make products and services available where the current customer need is. For example, thanks to a partnership we entered into recently, we are able to reach hundreds of specialist, expert resellers across the entire African continent. This network has the relationships and insight to go to market far more rapidly than we ever could if we were going it alone.
On the flipside, our new partner and their reseller network gets to add best-of-breed technology to their portfolio that enables their end users to unlock additional value from their existing ERP investments. Each link of the chain plays to its strengths, and we win, our partner and their network wins, and the customer wins.
This is the difference between a purely transactional partnership that is little more than a press release, and a partnership where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Because value is created for all, the partnership becomes self-propelling. And in the same way that our accelerated use of communications and collaboration technology has made it possible to hire remotely and to do deals remotely, it is entirely possible to set up these value-driven partnerships remotely, anywhere in the world.
The fly in the global partnership ointment
On the other hand, as much as technology and digital transformation has accelerated these advances and opportunities, pockets of untransformed, legacy thinking and ways of working make global partnerships more challenging than they should be.
Heading the list of blockers is the traditional international banking system. Admin, red tape, a blunt instrument approach to compliance, and onerous, unnecessary conditions and money transfer fees hamstring ambitious businesses’ ability to partner around the world. This affects businesses of all sizes but is especially egregious for the smaller and mid-size businesses that both form the backbone of many economies and can have revenues and profits massively amplified by the correct partnerships.
Like so many other traditional businesses that—whether through lack of ability or lack of will to change—clung too long onto legacy ways of working, this situation is bound to be disrupted. This can’t happen soon enough to unlock the potential for global partnerships in contributing to the post-pandemic recovery.
Nevertheless, small and medium businesses are no stranger to adversity and non-optimal conditions. The ones that successfully partner are likely to pull out ahead of the market. As the saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”