Mark talks about taking a relationship with a technology company towards a partnership and shares his thoughts on innovation, trust, delivery and cost in IT. Finally, Mark shares his top pieces of advice for companies that wish to start nearshoring and want to build true partnerships.
Outsourcing – it’s not all about the money
Mark Aikman is a CIO specialising in complex large scale transformations, often within high-risk or international environments. As CEO of Ignition Transformation, he is currently advising on a high-speed and significant worldwide deployment. Previously, he has led global transformation programmes for organisations including Cadbury’s, BP, T-Mobile and North Group. He was listed in the UK’s Top100 CIOs for 2017, recognising influential and innovative IT leaders.
Jaroslaw Granat is Future Processing’s Head of Client Engagement, working to ensure the highest level of services for the company’s clients. He is a graduate of Computer Sciences and Psychology in Business and has worked in IT for the last 10 years.
The transcript of the episode
Jarosław Granat (JG): Hello, and welcome to IT Leadership Insights by Future Processing. If you are a CIO, CTO, or another Senior IT Executive, this program is right for you, because we are going to talk about how to make IT outsourcing strategy right, and how to make the most of it.
JG: We’ll talk with Senior IT leaders to gain their perspective on the industry, and we’ll get them to share their ideas and insights. Please bear with me, my name is Jarosław Granat, and my guest today is Chief Operating Officer of Prosource IT, a managed IT service provider from the UK. UK’s Top 100 CIO Finalist in 2017, and a person I learned a lot from, Mark Aikman. Hello, Mark.
Mark Aikman (MA): Hello there.
JG: Mark, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
MA: Sure. Well, you did a very good introduction. I am the Chief Operating Officer for Prosource. Previously to that, I was, I’ve been a CIO, and I’ve worked for many international companies doing large-scale transformations.
JG: All right. Thanks for the introduction, Mark, and it’s great to have you here.
MA: Thanks for having me.
JG: Since you’ve got all the international experience, I was wondering how it is like to engage with a company that is abroad, because I imagine it must be a bit of a challenge, what do you think?
MA: It can be.
JG: It can be.
MA: But I think if you are careful with your selection, if you find a company who matches the kind of culture of the company you work for, shares similar sort of beliefs… And if the team that you engage with are enthusiastic about what you’re trying to do, and if you are clear with the objective that you are trying to do – whether it be creating a new product, or whether it be to support an existing product, or whatever it happens to be – I think being very clear with your partner (what I mean by partner is obviously the company you engage with ) I think ultimately (and assuming that company can deliver, because ultimately that’s what it’s all about) then I absolutely believe that you can work with any companies, wherever they happen to be based in the world. You are going for their expertise. Because they happen to be in X country, from my perspective, on an international stage, it doesn’t matter.
JG: Okay. A lot of preparations at the beginning I suppose, yeah?
MA: Yeah. And I think, obviously carrying out a degree of due diligence on the marketplace you’re in, carrying out due diligence on the type of supplier, the type of company that you want to do business with, is important. Have they done work within your area? Have they got existing clients that are similar to what you are trying to achieve? What kind of innovation are they demonstrating? And, ultimately, what do their customers think of them?
JG: Yeah, very important. If you already set up the relationship, how do take it from that to a real partnership? What does actually ‘partnership’ mean in this context?
MA: Really good question. A lot of hard work.
JG: A lot of hard work. Okay.
MA: A lot of hard work. For me, partnership is very much about trust.
MA: It sounds simple, but in reality, it takes a lot of hard work from, both from a senior management perspective, in terms of being able to – I guess – trust that you’re going to do the right thing by both companies, but also by the team itself. I think delivery, as I said before, is critical. You’ve got to be able to show progress. Team working as well, is a big thing for me, especially when you are working overseas. Again, depending on the times zone of the team, or teams, depending on where you are, getting the teams to come to the partner, and work in their offices is critical. Getting the partner to come to the customer’s office. I think both in terms of workshops in day work, but also from a social perspective as well getting to understand each other, especially when you’ve got different cultures potentially involved in that, I think is critical. My typical kind of pattern is, the first three months, it’s a bit like going on a, first week is going on a date. You’re a bit nervous, you don’t know what to expect. You either like that company, or that person, or you don’t. You find a mutual ground in which to share common interests. Over a period of around three months, you begin to establish its natural footing. Whether that be at a very technical level, so people who are very technical get to share their passion, or whether from a management perspective, you’re beginning to understand a bit more about what it is you’re to achieve, and that becomes more clearer. It is really about everyone understanding what the common goal is, working towards that common goal. And after about three months, it’ll either work, or it won’t. That’s the key thing. I think, for me, when you’ve got that period of settling in work through, the natural kind of working order will begin to happen, and then you should start seeing the results. Then also, a big word as well, for me, and a big thing I look for, is innovation. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean product.
MA: It could mean innovation in terms of working practices. For example, we may work in a certain style, you may work in a certain style – combined, we could come up with new working practices, which would be innovative. What I mean by that is, obviously in an office, it’s easier to do face to face time. When you’re obviously working with providers, or suppliers overshore , things like Skype, working on Skype is a skillset as well. That could be quite innovative if you’ve never done it before. Innovation can take many different forms, other than just actually creating something.
JG: You mentioned the delivery part for a few times. Would you say that it’s a kind of foundation for what, for everything that you do and require from a supplier?
MA: Yeah. Without delivery, the rest is academic.
MA: It’s as simple as that. I think delivery…everyone is under pressure…the whole world is under pressure to deliver something. And in modern day IT with the digital tsunami that is coming across everyone at the moment, you have to be seen to be bringing to market new products, or changes to the way that you do things. I think it’s a great time to be involved in IT, a really great time, and a really exciting time, because I think for once IT is now becoming the real underpinnings of most companies – if they’re honest, and the kind of companies who ignore it – at their peril. Well, there’s many examples of companies who have used tech to really explore their business and grow their business, and I think that’s all based on delivery. If you can’t deliver, and regularly deliver; so I mean the great thing with Agile as an example of a development methodology is, if you do the typical two week sprint, you do your show and tell and that’s a great opportunity, not only to showcase what the tech teams have done, but also to get the customer, whoever, your stakeholder, involved in that, and to show demonstrable progress. And for me, if you can constantly show progress, both to your teams who are developing it, but also to the business, or the customer who’s going to consume it, then that’s a great way to move forward.
JG: Okay. You’ve mentioned pretty much all of the important things like partnerships, relations, delivery, innovation, trust, but what about one particular subject that we have not touched yet – the cost? Because I know that for some companies this is of the most importance, and for some not necessarily. What’s your opinion on that?
MA: Yeah, I mean, very few companies work in a limitless budget …
JG: Budget. Yeah.
MA: … environment – I certainly haven’t had the luxury of that. Cost is definitely a consideration, it has to be. You can’t ignore cost. I think it’s like anything. You know, most businesses will set a budget for whatever they’re trying to do, in terms of their project, but I think if you can demonstrate delivery, as we’ve talked about, and if you find the right partner, then cost obviously is a factor. But any CEO, or anyone who’s ultimately got the cost as their accountability, if they can demonstrate progress and see great results, then the cost conversation is always a secondary conversation, if you’re delivering. Cost is a primary conversation if you’re not delivering, because, “How much have I spent, and why haven’t I got?” As opposed to, “Look at that, isn’t that amazing? I want X. It’s going to cost Y. Oh, that’s fine, because you’re delivering.”;
JG: I see.
MA: So, I think, for me, cost, if you’re looking to go nearshoring, or offshoring, in the past, has been a major consideration, because it’s been a lot cheaper. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case moving forward, but I think cost is always secondary to quality, and obviously delivery.
JG: Okay, so if we were to sum it up, what are top three pieces of advice from Mark Aikman, for a company that is about to start nearshoring and building partnerships?
MA: Yeah. Good question. My experience my opinion, obviously.
JG: Yeah, please, please do.
MA: Understand your culture…
MA: …the company you work for – understand that culture first. Understand your team, the team that you’ve got, including the business team. That’s my second point. Or actually, they’re probably first and second. Understand what you’re trying to do, so what is the customer expectation? Whether it be an internal customer, or whether it be your external customer – because if you don’t know already what you’re trying to do, it’s quite difficult to try and build it. Then, thirdly, once you’ve understood that, once you’ve understood what the team you’ve got, find a partner who you can work with. That’s critical. Carry out due diligence, understand what your customer wants, and then finally, deliver it.
JG: All right. Thank you for that summary, Mark, and for the whole chat.
MA: You’re welcome.
JG: It was really interesting, and very informative, so I believe that our viewers will like it too. Thank you, the viewers, for watching the first episode of IT Leadership Insights by Future Processing.
JG: If you found that useful, please, please don’t hesitate to share it and recommend it via LinkedIn, Twitter, email, whatsoever. And if there is anything you’d like us to cover next episodes, please drop us a line. Thank you once again, and see you in the next episode.