This morning, over my morning coffee, I came across Lubor Ptacek’s thoughts on the End of the Partner Ecosystem. I started reading the article as a skeptic and I finished reading it confident in my disagreement. I quickly decided that I needed to take the time to refute Lubor’s points in a post rather than through Twitter.
Before I could find some time to write this post, Cheryl McKinnon tweeted that the Difference is that new [partner] ecosystem is developer/API driven, not sales driven. I think that observation, while accurate, only tells part of the story.
Before diving into that, let’s discuss what Lubor got right.
Software as a Product
Lubor’s primary contention is that with the advent of the cloud, customers don’t need to use partners to setup, deliver, or support software anymore. As the solutions simplify, the need for certified trainers for the software is also dropping.
Lubor still sees a need for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) to help make the most of the software products, but in a diminished capacity. This is where I disagree with Lubor. The need is going to remain strong.
Simple is Just the Start
When I was looking at a cloud offering for my new Association Management System (AMS), I was frustrated by one cloud provider because they didn’t understand my business. My reaction reflects the trend I’ve seen in selling Content Management solutions as well, people want solution providers that understand their problems, not just the technology.
This is where the partner comes into play. Most Content Management vendors can’t maintain deep domain expertise in every vertical that they wish to do business. They have to partner with companies that have that expertise. For some larger clients, the software vendor may need to find a partner that knows that specific client very well (a common scenario with US Government agencies).
These partners know how to use tools to address the most pressing problems of a vertical. They may even have solutions built on top of those software platforms that already address many of the requirements.
Simple systems may make training easy, but they don’t always speak to how any company does business.
Plugging it Together
One thing I’ve found myself doing is ruling vendors out of contention because of poor developer support. While I don’t have massive development plans for AIIM, our desire to tie the systems we have together isn’t a flight of fancy. We have valid needs to tie our AMS to our website and both of those to our marketing automation system.
That’s where partners come into play. When you first get a system, it is easy to use the vendor to perform basic integrations but life doesn’t sit still. The odds are that every system will be replaced before replacing the system just purchased.
For these off-cycle changes, depending on a vendor can be expensive and developing people in-house is a challenge, especially when you don’t have full-time needs. In the Content Management space, this is more pronounced. Historically, the vendor’s professional services can be expensive and building in-house talent takes a lot of time and effort.
Partners will continue to thrive. Business have to be dynamic, typically more dynamic than traditional software providers. Cloud-based software providers can be more innovative, but have to remain all-things to all-clients.
This innovation gap is where partners will continue to thrive, offering system and vertical specific innovation to organizations. I couldn’t succeed as a CIO without good partners and the software providers I worked with as a consultant live and die on the success of their partners.
From every angle, partners are here for the long haul.