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Strategic partnerships are characteristic of innovation-ready companies

In her recently published book The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, author Jill Dyché lists the characteristics of an innovation-ready company. One of those characteristics? Building strategic partnerships.

These partnerships aren’t like the partnerships of yesteryear where a project was chunked by task and then assigned to whoever might do that work best. Strategic partnerships are built on collaboration, Dyché said. “The quid pro quos are different,” she said. “It’s not just about financial quid pro quos anymore like classic partnerships. It’s more about new ideas, product improvements and incubation of new functionality as well.”

By way of example, Dyché pointed to Ron Guerrier, vice president and chief information officer at Toyota Financial Services (TFS). “Ron has an innovation lab where his vendor partners are invited to come in and essentially do what they do best,” Dyché said. They can test out a new application by loading it onto one of the tablets in the innovation laboratory, and the business folks can give the app a test drive.

Guerrier will get feedback from the business through an automatic Q&A on where the application succeeds and where it falls down, but so will the vendor, who can use the feedback to drive bigger improvements. “The partnership is not only a delivery partnership, it’s also an incubation partnership, if you will, a product roadmap partnership,” Dyché said.

Tapping talent outside the four walls

Building strategic partnerships means recognizing that the internal ecosystem isn’t enough if businesses want to remain competitive. Here’s how Karen Dahut, vice president of the strategic innovation group at the consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, put it at the recent Chief Innovation Officer Summit in New York City: “Companies that believe that the best ideas only reside in their brick and mortar will not be successful. You have to engage in the broader global ecosystem.”

Booz Allen did just that when it partnered with Microsoft and Intel and Allscripts to build Allscripts Wand, a Windows 8 tablet-based application for the medical records organization. “Great innovation happens when great companies work together, partner together and collaborate in meaningful ways,” Dahut said.

And it means tackling big questions and paving the way for new markets. Cathryn Gunther, vice president of strategy and commercial model innovation at Merck & Co. Inc., talked about how the pharmaceutical giant is trying to improve customer engagement. “We’re working with a variety of different technology companies,” she said at the Chief Innovation Summit. “[The list includes] vendors to design some platforms to improve the engagement of consumers and their health in conjunction with their healthcare providers.”