Checklist for navigating the ‘Software Provider vs Business Change Partner’ dilemma

By Allan Watton on

Software Provider vs. Business Change PartnerA complex business change initiative involves implementing strategic changes to the way an organisation operates. This type of project requires your team to have a deep understanding of the current state of the organisation and the desired outcomes, as well as the ability to effectively manage the people, processes, and technology involved.

Software Provider vs. Business Change Partner

When considering the choice between a software provider vs. a business change partner for a complex project, it is important to recognise that the decision may not solely depend on the technology. Some organisations may consider working with a software provider to support the implementation of a complex business change initiative. However, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the business change aspects of the project before deciding on the right provider or partner to support the implementation of the business change initiative.

These types of initiatives often result in significant changes to an organisation’s culture, structure, or operations and can have a wide-ranging impact on employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Due to the complexity involved and the resources you have available, it is often beneficial to consider the wider question of whether you are fully informed about the impacts to your organisation and the degree to which your (available) internal resources can provide expert guidance and support throughout the project.

When deciding whether to work with either a software provider or a business change partner for a complex project, there are two key issues to consider. Firstly, it is important to have a clear understanding of the scope, remit, and potential implementation impacts of the project. This involves considering the business change aspects of the project to determine whether a software provider or a business change partner is the right fit. Secondly, it is essential to avoid making hasty decisions driven solely by executive peer pressure. Executives may not fully understand the nuances of the significant business change impact on the organisation and may expect quick results without recognising the need for a more strategic and measured approach.

To help evaluate your current level of understanding of the business change initiative, a checklist of questions has been created below.

This checklist will help you determine whether you have enough information to make an informed decision about whether to work with a business change partner or a software provider to support the implementation of the project. It will also help you assess whether you need to seek additional information before proceeding. Ultimately, a clear understanding of the business change aspects involved is crucial for the success of the project.

Better, faster, cheaper… the quick-fix solution

Shortcuts can be enticing. It’s easy to convince yourself that ‘for the good of the project’ you’ll cut out some aspects of due diligence and impact analysis to potentially save your organisation valuable time on tasks that ‘probably were not that important in the grand scheme of things’. The greater the organisational and/or executive pressure to cut costs and corners, the more likely personal accountability creeps in to suspend your critical thinking when it comes to what some suppliers represent as ‘better, faster, cheaper’ to implement your business change initiative.

Senior executives will typically tend towards finding quicker solutions to cut costs, improve efficiencies, and support longer-term strategic decisions. Software providers often represent that they offer solutions to improve operating effectiveness and ‘revolutionise’ operations.

While these key high-level messages can attract the attention of senior executives with ‘shiny object syndrome’, teams on the ground know these statements can be misleading, as realistically there is no short, medium or long-term operational gain without the ‘pain in change’. Individuals on the ground have first-hand knowledge of the intricacies of how your organisation operates and often have much to contribute in terms of understanding of where bottlenecks are, what should be improved, why, and how this might be achieved. Utilise this in-house wisdom knowledge base to its full when developing everything from your business case onwards to resist the ‘quick-fix’ mindset.

Do you need an independent, external view?

You could choose between two different types of support to get you to your end goal – a software solutions provider that will work with you to provide the solution you perceive you need or a business change partner that will help you to first discover the needs you actually have. These may be in the same or separate organisations.

The latter comes into play when senior executives want an external view of how their organisation operates. The desire for external input does not exist because they don’t trust their operating teams, usually the exact opposite is true – they may trust them implicitly, but want a view that they perceive (rightly or wrongly) isn’t inadvertently biased by internal loyalties within their own organisation.

Those same senior executives are likely to include themselves in this as well because they know that their internal loyalties may skew their view too. The other reason for seeking out an external view is that executives often also want to tap into an independent advisor’s broad-market insights into what other organisations are successfully achieving as these insights could present new and innovative thinking that may take the project in a totally different direction, which benefits your organisation.

The challenge of communicating the organisational impact of implementing business change projects

Worryingly, some senior executives can see ‘activity’ as progress towards organisational goals, but ‘movement’ in and of itself does not necessarily mean you are heading in the right direction. It is, therefore, critical to ensure that if you do decide to work with a software provider as opposed to a business change partner, any potential solution is fully fit for its intended purpose.

The challenge with this is communicating the extent of the operational change, resources required, impact on day-to-day operations, and financial implications of a business change initiative to all relevant parties. Many executives mistakenly view software-related projects as solely an IT or technology change, not a business change, regardless of the operational disruption it may, and will likely, cause. This clearly has the potential to result in numerous unforeseen effects across the business which could have been avoided with more holistic thinking.

A critical friend checklist before you jump into procuring a software solution

If your organisation is considering procuring software solutions to drive better effectiveness in your day-to-day operations to support your business change initiative, use this critical friend checklist.

If all of your answers are in the affirmative, then buying a software solution may be the right next step. If not, consider either waiting until the checklist is all green, or potentially, investing in some business change advice and support.

  1. Business change. Is it likely that the new software solution you’re considering will fundamentally change how your organisation operates some of its processes?
    • Outcomes articulation. If so, have you articulated what outcomes and objectives you are anticipating achieving once your new processes are bedded into your BAU operations?
    • Process capture. Have you mapped/captured the existing processes to identify those that you want any new solution to support and those you are open to changing? In other words, have you defined your ‘future operating state’ or ‘target operating model’?
    • Financial and operational impact. Have you captured what the financial and operational impact will be if, once the software has been implemented, the processes are improved in the manner you are anticipating and achieve your new ‘future state’ or ‘target operating model’? Have you also captured what the operational and financial impact will be if this is not achieved?
  2. Examples of how you operate. Have you put together ‘use cases’ that explain how you currently operate key processes and how those key processes currently support your existing outcomes and objectives? Have you also outlined what improvements you would like to see in those use cases and likewise, linked those to your new target operating model or future state?
  3. Linking requirements to use cases. In terms of the requirements for any new software solution you have put together, do these link specifically to the use cases and business processes so that it is clear how and where the requirements you are asking for will be utilised within your organisation?
  4. Bringing people with you… willingly. Do you have a plan for how you will govern the implementation of any business change so that you bring people with you to adopt any new solution quickly?
  5. Internal operational and technical expertise. Do you have a plan for ensuring that internal subject matter experts (SMEs) with the appropriate skills, experience and capacity to be engaged on your mission critical software implementation project are available? Such engagement will require each subject matter expert to fully understand how the software will support both their existing processes and any new target operating model.
    • Evaluation priorities. Do the SMEs fully understand how to prioritise what aspects of the software are most important to evaluate and how they might score each aspect of the system to assess the degree to which it is fit for its intended purpose?
  6. Assess the cost and ROI. Does your finance department fully understand how your organisation should assess the cost of acquiring and implementing the software solution and evaluate the expected return on investment (ROI) to determine whether the investment is justified?
  7. Marketplace communication. Have all of the above points been communicated to potential software providers in an early market engagement exercise, so they can provide feedback on your expectations and to assure that they can provide a solution within the cost, resource and timescale constraints you are operating to?
    • Internal expectation setting. This gives you the opportunity to socialise this feedback within your organisation so that expectations can be updated and aligned (or re-aligned) where appropriate.
    • Is the project feasible? From this feedback do you have better insights as to the practicalities to the degree that your expectations are realistically achievable?

If the answers to the above checklist are all affirmative, you should seriously consider finalising your procurement and contracting strategy to go for the software solution. Once your business case is approved and aligned with your strategy, it is then time to proceed with your formal software solution procurement process.

Communicating the true extent of a software solution’s business change impact to executive management

Earlier in this article, we outlined that the challenge here is the degree to which your executive management team insist on seeing what ‘they’ view as ‘progress’ towards the end goal. Many executives think of any software-related projects as ‘IT’ or ‘technology’ changes, as opposed to ‘business change’, irrespective of the degree of operational disruption that a change in business software might cause.

Communication with the executive management team needs to be clear and unambiguous as to the extent of the operational change, the resources required and why, how it is likely to impact day-to-day operations – if the implementation is successful, and likewise, if the implementation is not successful – and what steps are in place to potentially mitigate your business impacts if the implementation does not go as well as intended (56%-87% do not). It is also important that the executive management team have visibility of the financial impact of the project (both if it is successful and if it is not successful). It’s often only when executives see the true extent of the positive and (practical/likely) risk elements of the project, that they feel better informed to make appropriate decisions on supporting the ongoing investment.

Most organisations have the skills internally to provide expert input into these types of complex projects, but they rarely have the capacity and resources to do so with the appropriate level of detail to assure success of (a) the implementation, (b) backfilling the relevant expertise to be able to keep BAU effective and (c) ‘taking people with you’ rather than simply expecting them to operate new processes (or existing ones) having only had a few days of training on a new solution that fundamentally changes how they work. Recognition of this should spark conversations about resourcing to ensure that all appropriate skills, capacity and training is in place as and when it is needed based on a more fully considered view of the needs of the project and its knock-on effects.

If you have a sense that some executives ‘don’t get it’ in terms of the scale of change and resourcing when considering the implementation of a software solution that fundamentally changes how you operate one or more parts of your department or organisation, then the questionnaire in the previous section should help you provide line of sight to them about the risks or otherwise of proceeding with your project before you head into a project ill-prepared for the challenges it will present.

Pros and cons of engaging a business change partner for successful implementation

Whether your potential ‘business change’ partner calls themselves by that name or a ‘systems integrator’ (subject to how the partner organisation views themselves – they can be one and the same), if your executive team do ‘get it’ and come to the conclusion that external, objective support will help to supplement your existing thinking and available resourcing, a market engagement, procurement and partnering mechanism to engage such support to assure a successful business change initiative is vital.

In our expert witness evidence reviews for the High Courts, the majority of both off-the-shelf software solutions (procured and implemented by internal teams) and business change partnerships (procured and partnered with), do not end well.

Some 56%–87% of these initiatives fail outright. An assured mechanism for procuring, contracting, implementing and performance managing for anything that involves a material operational change in your organisation is a necessity. Some of the pros and cons of engaging with a business change partner include:

Expertise: A business change partner can bring valuable expertise and experience to the table, particularly in areas such as change management, business analysis, and project management.Cost: Engaging a business change partner can be expensive, particularly if they are providing a full suite of services.
Objectivity: A business change partner can provide an objective view of the organisation’s processes and operations, which can be valuable in identifying areas for improvement.Integration: There can be challenges in integrating a business change partner into the organisation’s existing structure and processes, particularly if they are working alongside internal teams.
Efficiency: A business change partner can help to ensure that the project is completed efficiently and effectively, with minimal disruption to day-to-day operations.Loss of control: Some organisations may feel that engaging a business change partner means relinquishing control over the project, particularly if the partner is providing a full suite of services.
Flexibility: A business change partner can provide a level of flexibility that may not be possible with internal resources, particularly in terms of scaling up or down as needed.Dependency: Engaging a business change partner can create a dependency on external resources, which can be challenging to manage in the long term.
Risk mitigation: A business change partner can help to identify and mitigate risks associated with the project, particularly in areas such as change management and stakeholder engagement.Lack of internal buy-in: Engaging a business change partner may not be well received by internal teams, particularly if they perceive it as a lack of trust or confidence in their abilities.

Key observations for a successful partnership with a business change partner

From our experience of nearly 600 complex supplier partnership arrangements and reflections from High Court cases we’ve either worked on or researched, we have established a series of observations that will improve your chances of partnering with the right type of organisation. A number of these observations you will already be familiar with, but all will help to inform and/or supplement your existing thinking.

An overview of the seven key steps to contracting with a business change partner can be found in this article, but in terms of achieving greater certainty in your goal of partnering with the right change partner organisation there are five key points to consider:

  1. Benefits of being a ‘mature client’ in business change partner engagement. If you do decide to engage with a business change partner, being clear about your objectives and outcomes means you have taken an informed and respectful approach with potential business change partners. You will also achieve two significant benefits. Firstly, they will view you as a ‘mature client’ who is clear about what you want to achieve and by when. The most highly competent partners will beat a path to your door wanting to deal with you, because mature clients, while demanding, are more predictable. Secondly, because you have provided that clarity and they will want to deal with you, they are likely to significantly reduce the pricing of ‘risk’ into the project, because any ambiguity over expectations has already been minimised.
  2. Contracting for professional advice separately to the software solution delivered. This point is absolutely critical. Whether the business change partner and the software solutions partner are separate organisations, or they are one and the same entity, it is important that the context of being clear about your outcomes means the partner can ask you the ‘right questions’ and clarify your expectations in terms they have certainty of. This process allows the partner to supplement their knowledge by undertaking a ‘deep dive’ analysis of what you are trying to deliver. This starts to establish a ‘strategic’ partnering relationship, which is vital to deliver a technology platform that really works and is flexible to achieve the outcomes you need. The very nature of this process, if it is structured correctly, (a) encourages true partnership behaviours, and (b) holds the partner contractually to account as an ‘expert’ in their field. This is also the ‘Plan B’ where if the partner doesn’t actually ask the ‘right questions’, they become contractually accountable to remediate for any issues caused by a misunderstanding over expectations, at their own cost, not yours. This means that ‘expert’ partners will be unable to successfully argue that they weren’t aware of, or had misunderstood, key facts or requirements (which may affect the fitness for purpose of their proposed solution), because they were responsible for asking you detailed questions about your requirements. This is what is often known as the ‘scoping’, ‘blueprinting’, ‘configuration’ or ‘supplier due diligence’ phase.
  3. Early market engagement; receiving fast and targeted feedback. Taking these points into account during your early market engagement exercise means you’ll find out relatively quickly from their market feedback what aspects of both your business change and ‘how’ any supporting software solutions provided by the business change partner will help you achieve the outcomes you need, those you will need to compromise on, and the likelihood of achieving your stated business outcomes within the timescales and budget you have set.
  4. More accurate procurement and contracting strategy. From the greater certainty you’ll achieve from your market engagement feedback, you can then have a much more certain route to market. It then makes the creation of any procurement and contracting strategy significantly faster (with a lower cost) and much more accurate. You not only know what you want to achieve, but also how you are likely to achieve it, by when and for how much. And all of this will also be externally validated by the marketplace itself, prior to embarking upon any formal procurement process.
  5. Streamlining the procurement process and implementation for a successful outcome. In turn, the procurement process itself will be much more certain (easier to contract for), have far less ambiguity (minimise misunderstandings during implementation), and if it is structured in the right way, will mean you’ll select a business change partner that can also act as a prime contractor (where appropriate) for the solutions you need. Likewise, the implementation process, while still likely to be painful in terms of getting people to change, will have a clearly defined series of steps and a much faster implementation time to get you into BAU, achieving huge improvements in effectiveness.


When considering a software solution or a business change partner for your organisation, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the operational change, resources required and potential risks involved.

If your organisation has the internal expertise and capacity to manage the complexities of a significant business change project, your direct assessment and procurement of a fit-for-purpose software solution, may be the right next step.

However, if there is uncertainty or a lack of resources, engaging with a business change partner can bring valuable expertise, objectivity, efficiency, and risk mitigation to the project. To ensure success in partnering with the right organisation, it is crucial to be a mature client, receive fast and targeted feedback, create a more accurate procurement and contracting strategy, and streamline the procurement process and implementation.

Ultimately, using the above checklist to help you take a well-informed and respectful approach in deciding whether to directly procure a software solution or engage a business change partner, can help to achieve the desired business outcomes, and support longer-term strategic decisions.