We all know that you find out who your true friends are when things are going badly. When you need to ask a big favour, and you call around – or more likely these days post on social media – there are those that will drop everything and come and help, and those that will mutter something about getting back to you when they have the time.
In most ways, the telecommunications revolution of the last few decades has made the world a much smaller place – but not necessarily for those who work in the industry.
Where before being based on an offshore platform or a remote research station was an isolating experience that removed workers from normal life for weeks or months on end, now they can do their Christmas shopping between shifts. And a job that may once have involved travelling for days at a time to collect research or meet colleagues can now be done without leaving the sofa at home.
But many aspects of telecoms and ICT have got more complicated, and some jobs still need to be done in person. Ironically, one of those jobs is often setting up the very systems that make the highly connected, no-need-to-get-off-the-couch world possible. And this can present real difficulties for firms who don’t have the scale to make engineers available across wide geographical areas.
British Telecom Engineers
Back in the early 1980s, all things telecom in the UK were run by one firm, BT – or British Telecom as it called itself back then. Its privatisation and subsequent industry deregulation gradually opened up a vast and rapidly growing market to hundreds of ambitious smaller players, even though the old state monopoly remained a domineering presence. Many thrived on sub-contracts from BT itself, while another huge industry grew up around the ICT infrastructure being built by every sector of the economy to take advantage of the communications revolution.
But whereas there was once always a BT engineer almost on every street corner, these smaller firms face the difficulty of finding suitable support staff to reach all geographies to which they are committed. For UK firms playing a leading role installing technology for global industries such as oil and gas, finance or law, this can mean having to reach dozens of countries in order to fulfil a contract.
At the same time, the technology itself has also got more complicated, and aspects have become very specialised, meaning that suitable skills can be very thin on the ground. For Cisco engineers, for example, the highest CCIE level of specialist can include no more than a couple of hundred certified engineers in each category, spread across the world.
Shortage of Cisco Security Specialist Engineers
Recent reports have focused on a shortage of security specialists, and the six figure salaries that firms are having to pay to secure their services. Undoubtedly, rising awareness of the threat from cyber crime means that security experts are in huge demand, and the crisis is particularly acute. But in fact some of the other top disciplines are also experiencing rocketing demand, such is the key nature of Cisco networks to most industries these days.
Whether you are looking for a CCIE specialist in Security, Wireless, or Routing and Switching, you will find it hard to get their attention, and not just because they are usually engrossed in learning more about these fascinating technologies. Should a company wish to directly employ an expert in each of half a dozen specialities, its IT budget will swell by more than half a million pounds a year.
This is where outsourcing comes into its own, as even relatively small firms are able to offer a comprehensive service to their clients thanks to our full UK coverage of Cisco engineers, and our international Cisco resource.
Outsourcing Specialist Cisco Services
The general benefits to business of outsourcing specialist services are well documented /LINK, and naturally these apply for network engineers too. You will reduce risk, control capital costs and be free to concentrate on your core business. But the nature of a white label service goes further and gives even greater advantages.
Any client firm can confidently claim that it can get a specialist engineer to any part of the UK, at any time of day or night, every day of the year. This allows them to bid on a range of contracts that would otherwise be prohibitive, potentially undercutting and out-competing larger rivals that employ a smaller range of Cisco-certified staff in-house. The ultimate client is also a winner, benefiting from a high quality of service – and of course they need never know that engineers were sub-contracted in.
In the IT channel, Strategic Partnerships are commonplace, most notably with the recent collaboration between the two technology giants, Cisco and Apple. The Apple & Cisco partnership is a perfect marriage, Apple gain access to the Enterprise market, whilst Cisco benefit from iOS and facilitate Apple’s entry into the Enterprise arena. But, what exactly is a Strategic Partnership?
Price Waterhouse Cooper define a Strategic Partnership as:
“A strategic partnership involves some shape of formal agreement between two or more parties that have agreed to share finance, skills, information and/or other resources in the pursuit of common goals.”
Before a Strategic Partnership has been formalised, firstly ensure that all parties share the same expectations of the outcome of such partnerships. Start by clearly defining shared business objectives, you both might want to achieve A or B, but can you achieve them together? Strategic Partnerships are generally triggered by the existence of shared objectives. For example a Managed Services Provider or Cisco Channel Partner may need Cisco Technical Resources worldwide due to a lack of in-house specialist Cisco Network Engineers. Therefore there exists an implied shared objective, prior to a formalised agreement being signed.
As highlighted in the PwC definition, a successful Strategic Partnership can only be achieved by sharing resources, finance, information and skills. Each company will have a unique strength which the other lacks, therefore combining capabilities allows both partners to access new markets, increase product/service offerings, increase revenues and embark on a mutually beneficial knowledge sharing relationship. Strategic Partnerships are a viable alternative to traditional growth strategies including organic growth, angel investors and borrowing.
Culture & Values
A 2013 CIPD survey showed that 60-70% of Strategic Partnerships fail, often triggered by a mismatch in culture and company values. The lesson learned from this statistic is to choose your partners based on common shared values and company culture. If your company has an aggressive sales culture who earn their competitive advantage via low prices, then your ideal partner isn’t a company who values quality of service over price.
Achieving a cultural fit where both parties share values, should not be underestimated. A written agreement will specify relevant KPI’s including volume of sales, quality of service and conflict management. However, in the blink of an eye, the days and months of negotiations can be destroyed with a cultural faux pas. Obvious cultural differences occur when partnering with an international partner in body language, linguistics and beliefs. However, more subtle factors like equality, gender balance and employee & stakeholder engagement can contribute to a failed or successful Strategic Partnership.
Ease of Integration
After agreeing on shared objectives, resources and culture, integration is the next step before the partnership is good to go. The theory of how companies form a partnership is the easy part, now it’s time to fit the final pieces together.
Integration is the point where 2 (or more) companies in a Strategic Partnership become one entity. What type of information is shared between parties? What processes should be implemented to directly deal with joint customers? What systems are implemented to process enquiries, sales and communications?
When a Cisco Channel Partner or ICT Provider, needs to book a Cisco Network Engineer from a Cisco Professional Services partner onto a client site, there needs to be a unified and coherent system used by both parties. A scope of work will be agreed along with timescales, prices and quality standards. Mapping systems would be in place so all partners can identify where Network Engineers are working and how and when to book the next available one: all contributing to a seamless synergy between Strategic Partners.
Have you experienced a Strategic Partnership where only 1 party truly benefits? Have you been involved in a Partnership where you value quality of service but your partner values low price more? Tell us your horror and success stories 🙂
Sell more and sell more now! Do as I TELL you. Listen when I bark! – We’ve all had horrid bosses like this, imparting their aggressive nature and sell-at-all-costs attitude which manifests into a toxic culture of bullying, aggression and arrogance. Working in an environment with a poisonous culture negatively impacts productivity, staff morale and business operations. On the other hand, focus on creating a positive culture which is people-centric and your business can build a substantial competitive advantage over market rivals.
Training & Development
In the year 2015 Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, smartphones & smartwatches, bigger memories, and bigger processors, faster machinery – none of which have any importance or relevance to your company culture and therefore highlighting that your employees are your most valuable asset.
Dedication to learning is an essential element in any successful company culture. Learning needs to be a continuous company process encouraging all staff members to embark on a quest for knowledge. Gathering professional qualifications is par for the course, but the value of soft skills shouldn’t be underestimated. Communications skills, work ethic, transferable skills and leadership qualities can all be nurtured from personal development training both in-house and externally. It is necessary to create a training and development plan with formalised processes by following the diagram below:
Flexibility & Trust
The last time I looked, all my colleagues could tie their own shoelaces, vote, earn a degree and passed the interview that got them their respective jobs – so why do some company cultures insist on babying their staff? – 2 minutes late and you’re reprimanded, wear a tie, ask for permission to make a cuppa, get in your cubicle and don’t get ideas above your station. When written down it seems ridiculous, but such antiquated cultures are commonplace. People daily dread getting up to go into their jobs, another groundhog day – if your staff think like this, then your culture needs addressing and quick!
Don’t make your staff fear for their jobs, create an environment whereby they have no fear and are free to take risks and make mistakes. Improvements can only be made by taking risks, challenging norms and pushing boundaries. Demonstrate trust in your staff, be flexible with breaks, start and finish times. If your employee perhaps has been working late, then allow them to come in late to recuperate and don’t try to squeeze every last morsel of productivity from them. Happy staff are productive staff. Grant your staff the freedom to make a cuppa as and when they please, start late or finish early occasionally, let them work from home, or check their phones for messages during company time. If your recruitment process was thorough enough and your company culture applies flexibility and trust, then you’ll successfully build a progressive culture with loyal and productive employees.
A company with an ingrained culture is a living breathing entity, and like people, can have a unique personality. Employees and stakeholders need to be able to identify with who your company is and what you stand for. Create a vision, mission and values statement to support company values – words on a piece of paper mean nothing unless there is a clear and defined strategy to implement & follow. Once company values have been installed into your everyday working environment, your staff and stakeholders can begin to buy into the values and beliefs you promote. Creating company values which resonate with the beliefs of individual stakeholders imparts shared beliefs and shared efforts to achieve a common goal.
Strategy guru, Michael Porter identifies 2 main types of competitive advantage, cost and differentiation. Gaining a competitive advantage through cost measures simply enters companies into an overcrowded race with competitors. Buying newer, faster machinery is easy, but you’ll always be part of that race to the bottom. Cut costs by swinging the axe, make employees work twice as hard to compensate for the axe-wielding, but humans burn out. The solution to creating a sustainable competitive advantage can only be achieved by delivering superior added value compared to your competitors.
Companies providing services rather than products can utilise their employees to help bring their services to market quicker than their competitors. Those employees can respond quicker to customer trends and demands by offering customised solutions not freely available amongst market rivals. Quality of service delivery must always be a priority over achieving the lowest price. When your company culture focuses on cheapness, cheaper costs, cheaper products then most likely your company culture is just as cheap. Implementing a superior quality of service comes from employees taking pride in their jobs, taking pride in satisfying their customers and pride in the company they work for. Try giving your staff no creative freedom, no trust, no flexibility and an obsession with cost cutting – do you think your employees are proud? If you want happy customers and stakeholders, join the culture club 🙂
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