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Benjamin Wootton

Doing DevOps? You Need a Partner, Not a Vendor

Large enterprises deal with huge numbers of vendors that supply technology and services to them: application vendors, infrastructure vendors, bespoke development services and so on.

These relationships are almost always transactional: the enterprise receives a highly-specific set of deliverables in exchange for a given fee.

But when enterprises try to deliver software faster, more frequently, and better - i.e. DevOps - these transactional relationships become a challenge. They work directly against the principles of DevOps, which is all about breaking down silos and barriers between people and working iteratively to a common goal with aligned incentives.

It’s enough of a challenge to implement DevOps successfully in an enterprise in the first place, without the drag of traditional vendors as an additional issue to deal with.

Many enterprises want DevOps ideals and ways of working, but both enterprises and vendors need a huge shift in mindset from vendor to partner if they are to achieve it.

But what makes a partner a partner, and not a vendor?

A partner is:

  • Less transactional
  • More fluid and agile
  • Embedded in the client organisation and team - delivering projects together
  • More outcome-focused and aligned with the goals of the client business
  • More collaboration, building trust on both sides of the transaction.

End customers need to make the shift from a vendor to a partner mindset if they are to be successful on their digital transformation journeys. And service providers need to do this if they are to grow their own businesses and remain relevant.

A critical friend

Many vendors suffer from the ‘innovator’s dilemma’: they are so busy serving their current market, that they don't have the time or energy to serve the next one that's emerging - even as the existing one shrinks.

Why would a vendor be proposing generational step change in approach if they can’t deliver it?

The result is that vendors are generally happy with the status quo. As long as the contract gets signed, whether you are well-positioned strategically in the long term is a secondary concern.

But outside the world of traditional vendors the pace of change is relentless. And enterprises need to be aware of this.

In contrast to a vendor, a trusted partner can be a reliable source of the changes that are happening in outside world.

A partner challenges you to be better, even when it’s a hard conversation and against their interests. They’re a critical friend, if you will.

Vendors will never do this, but with a partner you will learn and evolve together.

DevOps requires capability building

Enterprises can’t get to DevOps with just any set of vendors that do the job. Transformation goes deep into internal operating model and processes. Enterprises need partners to help them transform themselves!

If you are bring in a new vendor into your organisation, ask yourself the following key questions:

  • How does this supplier improve our capability and upskill our people?
  • How does this supplier give us an experience of new (and better!) ways of working?
  • How does this supplier change our culture?
  • How does this supplier help us raise our game?
  • What legacy will the supplier leave when the project is finished?

DevOps partners help you build your own capability. They don’t tie you up further.

They might come in and lead from the front in the early days, but they’ll transition to leading from the back, so your own people and processes are transformed in a way that means they can lead the charge themselves going forward.

What does success look like?

Success is finding partners with the:

  • Right skills
  • Right approach and vision
  • Right personalities and personal dynamics
  • Right contract and aligned incentives.

With these ingredients in place, your supplier relationships will evolve into something much more aligned with DevOps ideals such as collaboration, empowerment, agility and empathy.

And the benefits that you see from your relationship with them will go far beyond the merely transactional.

This is a fairly high level talk, but our experience at Contino has shown that if we consistently approach our work as partners with a relentless focus on capability building within our clients, it results in more success both for our partners and us.

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