Your Identity Delivery Partner’s Culture Is Important to You – Here’s Why

Jonathan Edwards, Director of IAM Strategy, SecureITsource, Inc.
You have spent months researching, conducting assessments, identifying requirements, watching demos or performing Proof of Concepts (PoC), and negotiating with solution vendors to determine the right solution for your organization. It begs an important question; how much time have you spent researching and understanding your Implementation Partner?

Let’s face it. All Consulting and Professional Services firms will say the same thing, “We have the best resources”, ”We have a lot of experience”, ”We are experts in the Identity space”, ”We have customers that will provide references”. All of these statements will have some truth associated with them since most Identity Services firms hire qualified people and likely have an extensive list of customers that can confirm their capabilities. With that said, most of these Services Firms should be a good choice, right? Maybe not. Culture is an important ingredient that all too frequently is not considered in the decision process. What do you know about the internal workings of the company? How do they collaborate, share, and leverage the greater experience of their teams? How well will their consultants mesh with your team? The list goes on and on, but let’s first consider why this is so important.

Understanding modus operandi of your delivery partner is just as important, if not more, than the solution your organization has chosen to implement. The alignment of their strategy, approach, and company culture will directly affect the success of your implementation and how well you will all work together. Moreover, while choosing the right solution for your Identity Strategy is paramount, even the best solution, deployed improperly, can cause more harm than good across your organization.

If we assume that any implementation partner you choose has adequate technical talent, then what else should you consider when making your decision? Below are a few points that you may want to consider as you embark on your Identity Journey.

What is their recommended implementation approach?

With the rise in Agile Project Implementation Methodologies, experts seem to be divided in how to incorporate Agile Methodology for something as complex and invasive as Identity Management. However, in this “house divided,” there is a solid argument to incorporate Agile Methodologies into Identity Implementations. The challenge is in the manner in which these methodologies are incorporated and how they are used to guide your project.

Professional Services firms differ in approach and methodologies. The critical component is to understand your partner’s methodologies and validate that their approaches are consistent with your organization’s approach to complex engagements. Your partner should be able to recommend an approach that caters to your company’s needs and internal process for project management. Additionally, your partner should be able to defend the advantages of their approach and why they believe it will be successful for your specific project. It is recommended to evaluate different methodologies and understanding exactly why the recommended approach will work for your situation.

The Identity Journey is a long and complex one, and regardless of the chosen approach, it will not always be perfect. It is critical to continue planning your roadmap and to be flexible to adjust when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road. Your deployment partner should establish a solid roadmap that incorporates a phased approach for your Identity Journey; While there may be times that you need to be flexible as you encounter slight changes in requirements, it is imperative to stay the course on your roadmap to ensure you can achieve success in your Identity Management Program.

How committed are your partner’s resources for your project?

In today’s competitive world, everyone is focused on ROI. While you may be focused on the ROI of your Identity Program, your partner is also focused on the ROI of the resources working on your engagement. Unfortunately, the demand greatly outweighs the supply of qualified Identity Management consulting talent. The market dynamics make it very likely that your partner has more projects than people. Client demands can be overwhelming and may create a situation where it is tempting to utilize consultants on multiple engagements, especially when there are ebbs and flows in the volume of work on your project.

Transparency is the best approach to ensure you are getting the attention, accuracy, and dedication that you are paying your partner to provide. With very few exceptions, the day-to-day consulting/engineering team should adhere to one consultant, one project. This ensures that they are not oversubscribed and “multi-tasking” on your engagement. It is common and ok if Solution Architects and Project Managers have multiple engagements, as their role is to guide you to long-term success and interact with your team on an as-needed basis. These are details that should be discussed upfront to ensure that there is no confusion or misunderstanding.

Moreover, as always, inspect what you expect. Make sure that your partner’s team is fully engaged and delivering on their deadlines. If you get excuses, you may want to validate that their team is 100% focused on you (and not multi-tasking with someone else!)!

How does your partner choose their customers?

You may be thinking to yourself, “Is it not the other way around?”. Although that may be true, a good implementation partner will only accept projects where they align well with the customer. Your partner should be exactly that, a partner. The goal should be to accept projects that they determine to have a high probability of success. Success is not about simplicity, but about the bilateral agreement with the customer and the partner on expectations, requirements, delivery approach, escalations, timelines, resourcing, and budget.

A partnership is built on trust and transparency between the two parties.

If a partner is just eager to get the project and does not validate that they can be successful, your organization’s chances for success will be greatly diminished.

Do they always say, Yes?

This ties very closely with the previous topic but still needs to be addressed. The first response to any requirement given by an implementation partner should not be “Yes”, “No”, or even “Maybe”, it should be “Why”. It is easy for your implementation partner to develop whatever the customer wants (just to appease them), but the reason that an organization has enlisted the help of an implementation partner is that they are looking for experience and guidance. There should be a valid business reason to justify every requirement requested by the customer. “Because this is the way we have always done it” is not a valid business reason, it may mean “We don’t like change”, “I’m afraid to push back on the business”, or “I just don’t know”. It’s important to understand what is trying to be accomplished and why. It’s about the long-term success, not your (or the business’) immediate happiness. You should be able to defend every requirement that has been implemented, it’s the purpose, and ROI to the organization. If you can’t defend it and put a value on it, then it needs to be reconsidered thoroughly.

How many solutions does your services partner support?

Many large global organizations offer professional services in a vast number of solutions. These firms support many diverse practices because of their sheer size and number of available staff members. Alternatively, some firms are specialists in a few and targeted practice disciplines. Here is where you need to look very closely at what products your partner supports. Do they support a vast number of solutions, or just a few? The saying “do a few things and do them better than anyone else” comes into play here. Pick a partner who is a specialist in the solution you have chosen. Understand their practice thoroughly and ask many questions. “Are their consultants vendor certified?” “Do they offer training to your teams?” “Does the solution vendor support this partner (are they on their website)?”, “how do their team members collaborate to leverage the experience of knowledge of the entire team?”, “do they have your chosen solution deployed in a lab?” There are very few organizations that can successfully support a vast number of software solutions and do them all well. If your goal is to hire an expert, then do just that, hire an expert.

Choose an implementation partner who has researched the industry and who is invested in the solutions that they endorse as the market leaders.

How available and involved is their leadership?

When you select a partner, you are selecting the entire team, including their leadership and executive team.

All practices, including good practices, trickle down from leadership to the rest of the company, including those who are assigned to your project. The executive team may not necessarily be involved in your engagement day-to-day, but you should know who they are, what they stand for, and how they lead their organization. Their values will be reflected in everything you experience, so be sure that those values align with your own and those of your company.

Seems pretty clear – culture does matter

There are many components to hard decisions, like choosing an implementation partner. Company culture is a big consideration, as it affects nearly everything important to you, the customer. To offer a few take-aways, here are a few key questions to keep in mind as you go through the decision process.

How do they share information internally and collaborate – This is especially relevant to new members of the organization as they need to be nurtured to full productivity. Some well-placed questions can shed some light on this. What kind of collaboration environments do they have? Slack is an excellent tool, for example, which allows members to create groups of any size to discuss relevant topics. Do they maintain document repositories? Are there templates and process documents available to all of the team? Sharing culture is crucial to avoid the pitfall of hoarding. Hoarding is where some members keep things to themselves so that they can emerge as the hero. This leads to situations that can poison the culture of any firm. An organization that encourages sharing and collaboration will avoid these pitfalls and drive people to openly share and ask questions without fear of ridicule.

What is the organizational structure – Many consulting firms are very flat because they have a lot of consultants and a few leaders. Remember, these organizations live and die by hourly billing, so a great majority of the company represent “doer vs. leaders”. However, this warrants a closer look, as there should be a structure that promotes mentorship and balance across the team.

How much turnover do they have among their team – LinkedIn can be a source of information, or, you can just ask. If there is hesitation in answering this question, then you may want to inspect closer as to why. Turnover can be a sign of an unhealthy work environment, over-worked consultants (more than one project at a time), or poor morale. Regardless, turnover among your project team could cause disruptions and delays in your deployment and could put your implementation at risk.
How frequently do they use contractors vs. FTE’s – Overutilization of contractors could be a sign of many things, including a partner who has oversubscribed themselves to too many projects, or, a symptom of retention issues. Talk openly to your provider about their propensity to use contractors vs. FTE’s, and if they do use contractors, take the time to understand their methodology for screening and retaining them.

Get references – All reputable Identity Services firms should have multiple references available to offer. If they hesitate on this, it should be a sign to look deeper into their approach and success rates in the field.

There is no formula for choosing an implementation partner; however, the more questions you ask, and the more research you do, the better the outcome will be for your project. “Inspect what you expect” and take the time to get to know your partner’s culture well. You will be spending money and time with them, so it is worth the effort!