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5 Things to Consider Before Partnering for Innovation

December 5, 2016 No Comments

Featured article by Tony Bullen, Executive Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, StayinFront

It is an exciting time for enterprise software developers. Driven by the rise in the power of mobile computing, image recognition, the Internet of Things and big data and analytics, there is a new wave of technologies that will fundamentally broaden the way most enterprise software works. Because of the rate at which these new technologies are growing, many software vendors are racing to incorporate them into their product suites to remain at the competitive forefront.

There are many challenges to doing this though – including a lack of resources, expertise and time. That’s why many developers are looking to “partnership for innovation” models, which can add a stronger level of expertise and ensure that the new technologies get deployed faster.

Partnership models can take many commercial forms, from full acquistions to simple licensing agreements. They also take many technical forms, from being tightly bound with your solution to being more loosely coupled. Finally, partnership models take different forms of final product offering from sold separately to fully bundled into your own application and pricing model.

So if you’re thinking of taking that leap, here are five key things to consider about partnering for innovation:

1). The customer value proposition and costs

Sometimes the best technical solution in the space doesn’t align with what your customers value and are willing to pay for. For example, it might be better to choose technology that can be bundled at no additional cost to the customer than something that would require you to charge them more, or something that may force them into upgrading hardware. Focus on the customer need, rather than the elegance of the technology. In addition to this, you have to consider the costs involved in hosting and supporting the solution. Will it require new or larger servers, and do you have the support skills you will need in-house or will you have to acquire them?

Determining what is best for your customer – and what they would be willing to pay for a new feature – should be central to your innnovation partnership, and figuring out what ongoing resources your company may need to support a new solution is also be part of the equation.

2). Competitive advantages – for both parties

Will this new technology be a game changer? New platforms are proliferating rapidly and it can be hard to separate the truly essential technologies from those that may get a lot of buzz but aren’t particularly useful. So ask yourself, ‘How much benefit will my customers derive from this technology?’ And, ‘Will the collaboration between my company and an innovation partner put us both at a competitive advantage? And will that advantage be sustainable?’

Anyone can bring a new technology to market, and competitors can quickly catch up, especially if they are bigger. By protecting your intellectual property, offering superior customer experience, and clearly emphasizing your new technology’s differentiation and value, you stand to have a greater competitive advantage. This also means having a sensible contract in place with your partner that involves input from legal and senior management teams from both sides.

When done well, this will be win-win for all parties, including your customers.

3). The technology stack

A key issue before partnering in innovation is to determine just how compatible your technology is with your potential partner’s. How tightly does the software integrate? Will the end users see the product as separate to your software or is it embedded so the integration is seamless to the users? Upgrades to the operating system are always an issue. Your company will have prepared for potential software upgrades, but has your partner? If your partner’s policies for upgrades and platform support do not align with your own, then you may end up reducing the size of your market. Understand how long each of their software versions will be in place, how long they will be maintained and supported. You need to partner with a company who’s moving along with the changing technology and will ride through the fits and bumps with you.

4). Deployment

One of your most important considerations in partnering is deployment, and it’s a process that needs to be worked out far in advance. Waiting until you deploy is not the time to find out if your new technology will work.

Deployment involves many steps and opens up many questions. For example, how will your users be trained? How will the software be used in different markets? A solution that works well in the United States may not work the same in Asia or the Middle East. Functionality and formatting may need to be changed for each locale. It is also important to understand how the software can be translated into other languages and what languages are already supported.

You also have to look at the way your software is managed and if their technology is compatible. Do they have the ability to hook into the monitoring software you use and can you push out their system changes and master data changes the same way?

Mobile devices often have constrained resources so you should run a proof of concept during your pre-development phase to understand the performance and memory impact their software will have on the devices you use.

You also must determine the impact on your servers and whether you need to add more hardware. Does their technology scale and will your scalability be effected by their technology?

Finally, with cybersecurity a pressing issue, you must plug any security holes, and ideally have your two systems support the same user authentication protocols. Understand that any failings of your chosen partner will be yours also, so you do need particular vigilance to security and data privacy issues.

5). The long game

Research your partner company carefully, and spend time getting to know their management teams, their product and their customer base. Of course, there is no way to answer these questions with any certainty, but ask yourself and your team if you believe the partner will be a market leader in the years to come. If there is better technology around the corner, will they adapt and stay at the forefront? Is your use of their software strategic for both of you and will it continue to be?

With the wave of new technologies arising, and as mobile devices become more featured and powerful, attempting to “go it alone” on implementing these new technologies can be complicated and delay deployment. Partnering for innovation can resolve these issues and put you at a distinct competitive advantage, but you will need to consider the questions raised here and understand the limits of what you know, and don’t know, about your partner.

Finally, be flexible – because the strategy you choose now may need to be adjusted or changed in the near future. To paraphrase – no product plan ever survives contact with the market without substantial adjustment.

About Tony Bullen

As Executive Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Tony is responsible for the strategic direction of StayinFront’s technology and product development. While overseeing the research and development team, he launched multiple innovations, including the company’s game-changing evolution to SaaS-based software and entry into the consumer goods vertical. In 1991, Tony founded The Great Elk Company, an early pioneer of CRM systems, which later became part of StayinFront. Previously, he was software development manager for Financial Systems, Ltd. He has also held multiple senior IT roles at Abbott Laboratories, Cap Gemini America, Unisys and the Ford Motor Company.

Tony is a member of the StayinFront Board of Directors and is a frequent speaker at events and trade shows. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Diploma in Business (Marketing) and a Master of Philosophy in Management Science and Information Systems from the University of Auckland.

About StayinFront

StayinFront is a leading global provider of mobile, cloud-based field force effectiveness and customer relationship management solutions for consumer goods and life sciences organizations.  Companies of all sizes in over 50 countries use StayinFront software to streamline sales operations and reduce the complexity, time and expense associated with field efforts.  StayinFront products provide companies with timely, accurate field data and insight, enabling field reps and management to do more, know more and sell more.  Headquartered in Fairfield, NJ, USA, StayinFront has offices in Canada, Chicago, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Ireland, India, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and China. For more details about StayinFront products and solutions, visit www.stayinfront.com

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