A strong relationship with a commercial partner is widely seen as a crucial ingredient for a successful project. According to Richard Corbridge, chief digital and information officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, it’s a dance which can be performed in a multitude of styles.

What do you need from the perfect dance partner? Someone with the same ear for a rhythm as you, someone who doesn’t tower over you, someone with strength and grace in awkward situations, someone who can deal with a changed or missed beat. All descriptions that a healthcare CIO needs to apply to building the perfect relationship with their commercial digital partners.

Does the search for the perfect ‘Strictly’ partner help when picking a digital delivery partner? Let’s take a look.

Argentine tango: Characterised by its hold embrace and complex leg and foot movements. It is an improvisational social dance that is truly a dance of leading and following.

The tango represents a digital delivery partner that follows your every move, no matter how complex the delivery is that you are trying to achieve. In the modern digital environment, this type of partner will need to be able to improvise within a plan and deliver at high speed.

The issue with this kind of relationship is there needs to be a clear leader. That will either have to be you at all times – which can be a significant responsibility – or will be your partner, with the risk they will drive your organisation to their own beat.

Ballroom dancing: A form of partnered dance that has pre-defined steps following strict tempo music.

In this analogy, you have created a very structured partnership with your digital partner. You each know what is needed at every step of the way – you work closely to deliver clearly-defined contractual elements, or a mutually-beneficial delivery plan.

If you are only ever going to need the original plan, then this setup may be perfect. But if there is a need to go off plan, can you quickly react?

Contemporary dance: Not a specific dance form, but a collection of methods and techniques developed from modern and post-modern dance.

This style of partnership requires a strong and trusting relationship to have been developed – after all, you are about to embark on a journey that some will think is a little odd.

Realistically, few partnerships of sufficient strength have been developed to allow digital partners to work in this way. But a reaction-driven relationship, allowing agile responses to problems, is likely to be well suited to future digital challenges. The time may be now for digital leaders to understand how such a relationship can work.

Jive: A social dance that can be practised to a broad range of popular music, making it highly versatile, which adds to its appeal. Easy to learn but tricky to master.

Jive is perhaps the most appropriate analogy for short-term partnerships with a single delivery focus. These relationships are quick to create and driven by the tempo of the project in question. No lasting commitment needs to be made. But if a longer term partnership ultimately develops, then a strict set of performance metrics needs to be put in place to ensure the pace can be maintained.

Salsa: In 4/4 time in two bar phrases with a pause on the 4th and 8th beats, which gives a quick-quick-slow rhythm. In classes a choreographed sequence is generally taught, but in practice it is an improvised dance.

Salsa can be seen as a sales-driven digital relationship. The initial excitement of the contract being signed and the new relationship created will give those early deliverables a focus. The shared impetus to deliver will be almost jive-like. But without collective improvisation as the relationship matures, the speed of delivery will slow down. It can be a helpful setup for creating quick wins, with improvisation of the relationship in after-sales behaviour ensuring its continuing evolution and success.

Tap dance: A non-partnered dance that is generally choreographed, with one or more dancers.

The Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCRE) are a good example of five tap dances being performed around the country. Each will be trying to create their own tap dance, exercising some choice in the outfits they wear, but the original choreography will be provided by NHS England and the beat and shoes provided by NHS Digital and others. When performed, the music and choreography will have to be the same for the system-of-systems approach to deliver across the country.

We need to be awake to the style of partner we are choosing for the dance, and be comfortable with using different styles for different partnerships. True success will come when we have picked the right partner for each type of dance we need to deliver, and we know how to move seamlessly from style to style.

Grab your partners by the toe, let’s go do the dozy do, or as the legend that is Sir Bruce would say: ‘Keep dancing!’