Contrary to what an innocent onlooker might think, advanced IT is a human business. It takes people to use technology successfully for value creation. Leading global IT services provider HCLTech prefers forging relationships beyond a transactional contract.
"There is a secret sauce to IT service procurement," says Gavin Westwood, Senior Vice President, HCLTech, Europe. "Many successful firms know how to leverage a central principle of basing partner decisions on relationship, relationship, and relationship."
Typically, companies buy IT services because they lack in-house skills and expertise. In partner selection, the focus tends to be on technology solutions – and costs. Experience shows that where digital transformation works, the list of priorities is quite different.
Immersed in countless major large-scale IT transformations, Westwood compares an IT project to having a house built for the family. One needs a carpenter and other trades. But just sending over a blueprint and a list of building materials is not enough to ensure the house will be any good.
"You would want to understand who these people are. To get there, you need to spend some time with them. Trust is a two-way street, of course. Both parties must invest in the relationship," Westwood says.
A trusted IT partner goes beyond delivering what’s in the contract's clauses. The customer wants to feel safe that the partner will keep promises and be honest even with the trickiest issues. Relationships are more profound than a contract will be able to pin down.
"We're talking genuine relationships here that make interactions natural, which makes doing business easy, flexible, and agile."
Westwood has worked for Finnish enterprises for years and made a career in several leading international technology companies. He is now settled in Helsinki, close to his customers.
Difficult times show the value of relationship
Westwood works closely with Jukka Lehtinen, now Regional Sales Director at HCLTech Finland, having paid his dues at several top firms in the industry.
"Trust weaves itself around humility, honesty and straight talk," Lehtinen says. "Some issues are bound to surface when stakes are high, and you deal with extremely complex technologies. The way you solve these issues determines the strength of the relationship."
He points out that having thousands of pages in a contract packed with legal jargon is not unusual. Yet, when things heat up, very few apart from the lawyers have time to read the legalese or understand what the clauses mean.
"An IT service contract lays the framework for the cooperation and the relationship. But it should only function as a point of reference. If you need to go back to the contract, you will have failed. No contract will save you from difficulties, whereas a true relationship will."
Let's meet at the coffee machine
Westwood and Lehtinen agree that it is good to engage the team at the customer's premises. Random encounters are a powerful means to forge relationships.
"When people walk the same corridors, meet at the coffee machine, and spend time together daily, trust and relationships emerge," Westwood explains. "Post-pandemic, this may feel like a luxury, but we see that pre-pandemic relations carry over to this day, with the connection between people facilitating remote work."
A great return of a genuine relationship is the ability to innovate. In today's business environment, IT is at its heart. Innovation speed is crucial for competitiveness. However, innovation is not automatically at one's beck and call. Most businesses need agile innovation partners.
"Trust fosters innovation," Lehtinen says." A good relationship wastes no time beating around the bush. The customer gets the best ideas as they emerge. In an ongoing healthy and trust -based engagement, experts and teams know in advance what the customer needs and how to get things done efficiently. Isn't that a win-win situation?"
Tough competition is welcome
HCLTech’ approach is open-book management as coined by John Case in 1993.
"The concept requires transparency," Westwood states. "Sharing beats hidden agendas. We often disclose financial targets and other sensitive information to clients, demonstrating trust and commitment in our relationships."
Westwood and Lehtinen emphasize that a company should not express its values just on fancy presentation slides. Instead, it must operate accordingly.
Each day, the people at HCLTech demonstrate the company values, for instance, by prioritising employee well-being and customer value creation. In a highly competitive IT services market, a partner must understand the challenges that clients have and the environment in which they operate.
"What makes us different from other players is not only the technical side but especially how we work. We build relationships based on trust, transparency, and flexibility. When you get that right, life is much easier in a constantly changing world."