Published on 2014/01/29
Ensuring Success in a Vendor Partnership
By developing a clear set of expectations and guidelines, institutions and vendors can engage in highly successful service partnerships.
Why have we seen an increase in academic and administrative service partnerships between companies and colleges/universities over the past decade?

There are several reasons. The immediate rationale seems to be money; either getting more or becoming more cost efficient. But the truth is institutions realize they not only need to stay close to their mission, but also that there are other entities with expertise in particular areas where the institution may not be as strong.

The result is a symbiotic, pleasurable partnership.

The challenge is the right fit between the vendor/supplier and institution to avoid, or at least reduce, perilous conflict. A strong, viable and mutually beneficial partnership can be described by the acronym: GROWTH

  • What are the Goals of the partners?
  • How will Revenue be shared?
  • What are the expected Outcomes?
  • Who is in charge at all points in the process?
  • Is the process as Transparent as possible?
  • Are the people Hired trusted by both organizations?

1. Goals

For a partnership of any type to work, both partners have to articulate their goals. The goals do not need to be identical, but they must be complementary. For instance, one party may want visibility; the other may want to expand into a different marketplace. What does each party need to ‘own,’ such as lodging, food and book selling? Engage in due diligence. If using a commercial vendor, consider how long the company has been in business, what clients report and how nimble it is in responding to technological changes.

2. Revenue

Revenue agreement is absolutely key. How will it be split? What if there isn’t any? What about foreign exchange fluctuations? How, even, does organizational culture connect with revenue? Sharing services between two institutions two miles apart, both state-funded, does not necessarily mean a 50-50 split is in the interest of both. Project the revenue expectations (either cost savings or revenue generating) over at least three years, preferably five. And this is important to keep in mind: the partnership should never be based on revenue alone.

3. Outcomes

Know what outcomes are needed for both your institution and the vendor/partner. This is different than goals. Outcomes can and should manifest in several ways: changes to program delivery, entrance into online, additional research grants, new programs, new marketing approaches, better communication, etc. Is the long-term sustainability of the partnership itself a goal or an outcome? Is a partnership a kick-start with the intent to bring the venture back to campus? Is the partner aware of this outcome? Keep in mind the different populations served by the partnership to align outcomes. A traditional student’s needs are different from that of adult students, faculty or administrators. One vendor may not be able to service multiple campus factions.

4. Who?

Often overlooked is establishing who is in charge, when and what for. Be careful of personnel tangles in loyalty to one partner or another, to where something falls through a gap or, worse, both partners become involved in an issue but with different solutions. Further, ‘who is in charge’ needs to be revisited regularly as goals and objectives may change on either side of the partnership.

5. Transparent

Make the process as transparent as possible for everyone: academic staff, administration and other partners. A botched partnership will bring negative press. A smooth partnership will rarely bring outside attention to your institution but it will be a source of pride to those inside. If the partnership is for cost savings, celebrate the savings through regular communication.

6. Hired

Lastly, hire, or locate internally, people trusted by both partners, who know both partners and who are comfortable with both. A mismatch in personnel can destroy a partnership. As soon as someone involved with the partnership moves on, leaves or is promoted, make sure the new person is not only comfortable in the role but is also fully cognizant of all aspects of the partnership. With any change of personnel for either partner, regroup, reintroduce everyone and reevaluate the goals and outcomes.

Partnerships do not need to be perilous if designed in the interests of both partners. They will be an enriching (pun intended) experience for faculty, staff, administrators, students, and in the continuing evolution of higher education.

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