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3 Steps to a Successful Partnership with a Digital Startup

People love their coffee. A survey by the Huffington Post notes that 49% of coffee drinkers would rather give up their cell phone for a month than go without coffee. People’s love for coffee also makes it a highly competitive field as retailers try to vie for coffee drinker’s dollars.

Can you guess which coffee retailer repeatedly ranks #1 for customer loyalty?

Starbucks. Everybody loves Starbucks and Starbucks loves strategy. Besides dominating every city corner, the company positions itself well with its strategic partnerships with other types of retailers to be more available to its legion of loyal customers.

What constitutes a Successful Partnership in the Digital World?

Partnerships are a win-win when they’re done right. A successful partnership is mutually beneficial and puts both businesses in a more favorable position in the market. That’s not going to change, but what is changing is the landscape of today’s partnerships.

The Starbucks/Target example is a traditional strategic partnership, where a business is physically placed within another to help promote both brands and attract more customers.

But we live in a digital world, and today’s partnerships are focusing more on innovative technology that improve the user experience or business process. Just look at Ford and Spotify, Visa and ParkWhiz or Walgreens and Pager.

When the Established Giants Meet the New Kids on the Block

Established business giants, or incumbent organizations, are now turning to digital startups for new solutions to shake up and challenge legacy workflows.

“Startups compete by being agile, innovative, and active experimenters. Unencumbered by legacy systems and heavy bureaucracies, they adapt and move quickly. Incumbents may be less agile or innovative, but they compete due to strong asset bases, well established brands, along with deep and longstanding relationships with customers and other stakeholders.”

The Battle for Digital Disruption: Startups vs. Incumbents

A strategic partnership between an incumbent organization and a digital startup leverages each set of strengths, combining the startup’s agility and innovation with the incumbent’s brand recognition and strong client base. But implementation is key.

Keys to Success

From my own work at Narrative Science as a Solutions Consultant, here are a few observations about what helps to ensure a successful partnership:

1) Understanding The Problem

A solution follows a problem. It’s really important to identify and understand that problem. For my work specifically in the financial services world, a common challenge for large organizations is the time-intensive task of consistent and error-free report writing related to areas like sales, product or employee performance. Slim resources and busy employees equal reporting challenges.

With the problem clearly articulated, it is a much easier process to identify how innovative technologies like our Advanced Natural Language Generation (NLG) platform, Quill can be applied, what success will look like and how to measure it. The most successful partnerships come about when the organization has already identified their problem and know what they need as an end product.

2) Building The Right Team

After the problem is understood, it’s time to put the right team in place. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the Innovations team at Deloitte to help identify use cases and coordinate teams across different functions including Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Consulting.

I’ve also worked closely with managers and partners across these functions who act as subject matter experts (SMEs) and IT/data experts for each use case. The SME is someone who understands the problem, how to solve it, and how technology comes into play. The IT/data expert is someone that understands how to integrate systems and backend infrastructure.

Filling these roles is crucial for a smooth collaborative deployment along with having a project manager to track resources and timelines

3) Internal Awareness

Once a successful pilot is complete and it’s time for an internal launch, it’s really important to have internal educational materials available. A new technology is only as valuable as its adoption. Walking end-users both through good internal documentation and live training really brings the technology to life. Hosting a tutorial day is a good education method and can clarify any questions about the solution.

On the flipside, this also gives the startup an opportunity to hear about areas for improvements. A partnership is a two-way street and learning from each other throughout the process is key to sustaining a long-term relationship.

There are a lot of moving parts in any strategic relationship, but having gone through numerous deployments, these steps have proven to be the keys to a smooth and successful partnership time and time again.


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