PART Seven: Come on IT Companies. Let’s be Disruptive. Working together or working with the enemy?

In previous articles I considered the possibility of larger companies engaging with smaller SMEs to address the current shortage in IT skills rather than direct recruitment.  I also covered the difficulties a larger company may experience and the need to consider the management of projects involving multiple companies; something which is common place in large engineering and construction projects. 

For large projects it’s unlikely that a single small SME will be able to deliver everything within the required timescales.  However, it is still possible for the smaller companies to get involved in larger projects. 

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A large company can offer work in discrete packages which means it will manage a team made up of multiple companies. Alternatively, a small company can subcontract out work to third parties to give it the resources and skills to carry out the work. As the prime contractor it is then responsible for the overall delivery.  These approaches tend to be a reactive response to a tender, and so are not collaborative in the sense of equal partners.

Many small companies are excellent at networking and building relationships. They recognize the value of informally connecting, working with each other, and forming partnerships for mutual benefit. However, for others working with companies they see as potential competitors is a step too far. The thing is some companies are just too small, and unless they are able to partner up they will miss out on the opportunities of working with larger companies. So the fear of working with competitors denies the company potential lucrative work.

Of course it all depends on the aspirations of the small SME. Many companies are happy to work in their own particular niche or geographical location, and may not want to expand to larger pieces of work. For those who are actively seeking to grow their business, partnering with other companies with complementary skills or based in new locations could be a key part of their growth strategy. It’s then a case of connecting with a like-minded company where the ‘chemistry’ between the two principals works.

Some partnerships happen naturally where people already know of one another or meet at a networking events. Others require a far more proactive approach: actively deciding on the new business to pursue, clarifying the characteristics of potential partners, and taking steps to find them. Regardless of the method, for me the most important thing is to have a good gut feeling about a person i.e. you want to work together. This is beginning to read like an article on dating – but perhaps that analogy is not too far from the truth. Like, trust, respect, complementary skills and outlook all matter for successful partnerships.  

In summary, to chase bigger pieces of business, small companies need to consider their strategy and find a means of connecting with other companies to help grow their business. Your competitors can also be your friends, and if you are not building partnerships they may be. To misquote the old adage ‘Keep your friends close and your competitors closer’.

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First published on Company Connecting November 2015

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