In my discussions with bankers regarding their relationships with technology companies, many echoed a point of view set forth in the comic strip Dilbert: "A vendor simply takes the customer's money and provides a product. A partner takes the customer's money and provides a 'solution' that looks suspiciously like a 'product' except that it costs more."
Vendors, not surprisingly, have a little different take on the concept of partnering. Their views give bankers insight into what makes a successful technology partnership.
Les Muma, president of Fiserv Inc., said bankers considering striking a deal with a technology vendor must decide whether they want a true partnership or a client relationship.
"If they want a full partnership, they should base the marriage on culture, beliefs, and mutual benefits, not simply costs," Mr. Muma said.
One way to accomplish this is to make the vendor a member of the executive team and "share their strategies as well as their tactics." This will help the vendor to be a complete servicer of the bank's needs.
"Every vendor wants to help facilitate a bank's programs and expand their customer base," said Graham Gurney, senior vice president of Open Solutions Inc.
Mr. Gurney said he feels that the measure of a vendor's ability to be a partner should be measured by how well it helps customers achieve their objectives. "If they grow, we grow," he said.
Mike Hill, president of banking operations at Alltel Information Services Inc., said a true client relationship lets the vendor be a consultant to the client.
"It allows each partner to do what they do well in the relationship and to measure that with an objective set of measurements focused on results," he said.
Mr. Hill said in a true partnership there should be no need to micromanage each other. "Results should exceed the expectations they have of each other," he added.
If the relationship is a focused one based on trust, the "customer will allow us to have access to their strategies and their technical orientation and allow us to help them with their competitive environment," Mr. Hill said.
Bobby Grisham, president of the banking and securities group at Electronic Data Systems Corp., said he sees partnerships as mutually beneficial. "Both have a chance for real value in a relationship that leverages the strengths of both parties," he said.
However, Mr. Grisham said, keeping this in balance for a long period is a challenge because of all the changes going on in the banking world.
Mr. Grisham agreed that making a vendor part of the bank's team and part of the decision-making process would enable the vendor to be a better partner.
"Most of our value added is our ability to bring together the various technical components into the right business solution to accomplish success on the bank's terms, not ours," Mr. Grisham said. "Where the relationship isn't strong, the communication between us is poor."
Mr. Grisham said that if a vendor is measured by the success of its clients, it has met the client's objectives. The whole relationship should rest on "our commitment to stake our success on our clients' performance."
Bahram Yusefzadeh, chairman and chief executive officer of Phoenix International, said a good partner "is a bank who comes to the table with an open mind."
Mr. Yusefzadeh said banks should be willing to leave some of their old ways behind and be willing to explore opportunities when they seek to trade an old system for new technology.
Mr. Yusefzadeh said he feels that the best bank-vendor relationship must "initially be established during the sales cycle and cemented as a result of the conversion effort."
Echoing other vendors' desire to be part of bank strategic planning, Mr. Yusefzadeh said, "Implementation of the 'combined' entities results in the timely and cost-effective delivery of competitive advantage for the bank and contributes to the enrichment of the vendor's products, services, and customer reference base."
Joe Delgadillo, president and chief operating officer of M&I Data Services Inc., said he sees two types of strategic partnership: technology and business.
In the former, the bank wants the vendor to work with it "to form the best technology solutions, to conform to specifications that have already been defined."
In a strategic business partnership, the bank wants the vendor "to provide the solutions."
To be a better strategic business partner, Mr. Delgadillo said, he spends a lot of time with senior management. "We do focus groups or usability labs, where we try our concepts on the bank's clients, their retail customers, before we even give it to a programmer."
Dan Shannon, president of M&I EastPoint, said he believes that partnership goals and expectations must be delineated within the first 30 to 60 days of a relationship.
Communication between the vendor and bank partner "must be proactive, open times for feedback at multiple levels within the organization," he said, adding that "good partnerships have commitment and involvement from the top management."
He added, "A perfect partner is one that is committed to having an in- house education function" so that everyone is updated and has a total understanding of the relationship and mutual recognition exists of the partnership and its impact.
In general, the vendors emphasized that how a bank applies technology and the people handling that application are the critical and differentiating components that bring value to the user. "Set expectations and communicate, communicate, communicate," Mr. Yusefzadeh said