The Year of...
It might not be possible to accurately forecast the major theme of this New Year. I have been through several iterations already and while each has its own claim to fame, we won't know until it's all over what was most important. As long as I am still in the mood to throw out ideas, here's another one: Might this become the year of the platform or platform computing?
There are some good reasons to consider platform's primacy in our thinking.
Most vendors have some version of a platform that includes a hardware or infrastructure layer, middleware and applications. Most vendors have been at it for a while, so product sets are reasonably well configured and are in working order -- no slideware here.
Platform makes sense from both vendor and customer perspectives. For vendors, platform rebuilds the walled gardens that were prevalent back when compilers and databases drove things. For customers, platforms and their ecosystem partners offer a reasonably robust environment for doing most of their business processing, and this places less emphasis on the wall and more on the garden.
Nonetheless, no two platforms are alike. Oracle touts its hardware and middleware whenever it can, while Microsoft continues to insist on a world reliant on one or another version of Windows. Salesforce peddles a version of nirvana that includes social, mobile and multitenancy. There's something for every taste.
Less talked about is the benefit smaller companies and independent software vendors can get from a platform and its ecosystem. Platforms reduce an ISV's need to do everything alone -- from building product to marketing and selling it, and even to integrating it with other kindred applications. There's never been a better time to be an ISV, especially if you pick your partner carefully.
Following are some questions that anyone should keep in mind when selecting the right partner.
- How relevant is the supplier in your chosen market? If you want to supply a front office or CRM application, how is the platform vendor oriented to that market -- and does it matter? Should you build your solution on a platform that's oriented toward ERP, for example? A lot depends on your application and how you plan to sell it, so you have to think hard about this.
- What is the vendor's reputation for supporting ISVs? The answers can be all over the map. Some vendors set up reseller programs and hold everyone at arm's length so as not to ruffle any feathers. Other vendors accept only a limited number of partners but then really push for them. Still other vendors take on anyone without regard to their ability to play in the big leagues. A good ecosystem leader should have programs and services in place that help you prosper without taking responsibility for your success.
- How do you plan to go to market? Don't fall into the trap of thinking you simply need great technology and that you'll be able to tap into the vendor's sales team. They have enough to do making quota, and many see partners as added drag in bringing deals to closure. So develop a concrete and clear go-to-market strategy. When you get some help, it will seem like a luxury.
- How will their program offload some of your overhead? Is it a good fit? If you're technical and plan to do all the development and maintenance, you'll want to ensure the vendor has a robust technical platform -- but at the same time, you might not be the world's next great marketer. What help does the vendor offer you? This answer might drive the decision.
- How does the venture capital community see your prospective partner? Ideally, your partner will have some alumni who have hit the ball out of the park, and their investors will be eager to do it all over again. The VC-OEM complex is very valuable, and you should inspect this facet with care.
- How do you fit with the OEM's other partners? If you plan to offer a solution for which there are already multiple similar products, how are you going to stand out? Will it matter? Do you plan on going head-to-head with the others? Also, how does your proposed solution fit with other ecosystem solutions in larger business processes? For example, if you offer a configuration, pricing and quotation solution, how do you fit with SFA products in the ecosystem?
Lastly, there is the issue of integration. A good platform will have plenty of APIs and other ways to integrate your solution with other partners in the ecosystem and beyond. Ideally, if you build your solution on a platform, you should be able to automatically share data and workflow metadata with those other apps.
Platforms make bringing your idea to market easier than ever. However, you still have a responsibility to yourself to evaluate options, because there are some very real differences. As my dad used to say, measure twice, cut once.