Why vendors should lean on ecosystems to foster open innovation and scale

When technology companies create platforms built on open standards those companies often depend on a network of partners to help customers take full advantage of what the platforms have to offer. These partners form an ecosystem around the platform, giving users access to a comprehensive array of solutions that far exceed what the platform provider alone can provide. In the process of doing that, the partners themselves begin to collaborate, eventually creating a system that strengthens itself as it grows.

In a partner ecosystem, Global System Integrators (GSIs) and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) can help platform providers scale and diversify their offerings, enabling them to reach a more varied customer base, often across multiple industries. In return, platform providers offer their ecosystem partners clarity on opportunities for revenue growth, how partners can engage one another, how to grow solutions and IP, and the resources needed to develop skills and expertise on the platform. Building on open technology enables ecosystems to have access to a larger group of partners that can drive innovation through collective domain and industry expertise.

We’re already seeing industry-leading companies make the most of partner ecosystems to extend the reach of their software and services across hybrid clouds.

Strength in numbers

The good news is that, according to the 2020 IBM Global C-Suite study of more than 13,000 executives worldwide, 60 percent of CEOs expect business partnering and their number of business partners to grow significantly.

Hybrid cloud increasingly represents the future of enterprise IT, as businesses look to leverage investments made in disparate systems over the years by moving more workloads to the cloud. No single solution provider can help companies accommodate the multitude of clouds they have likely accumulated over time to meet different organizational needs (such as department-level app development, disaster recovery, web serving or SaaS adoption), or that they inherited through M&A activity.

Partners say that ecosystems offer them the ability to scale and innovate through collaboration, as an alternative to large investments in building their own systems integration and software development resources. In turn, partners count on one another to continually bring the best technology and industry expertise to market.

A recent Institute for Business Value (IBV) Innovation in Ecosystem survey provides some indication as to why ecosystems are so important, as well as the challenges they face. The survey found, for example, that businesses with high engagement in ecosystems report 15 percent greater contribution to revenue from innovation than businesses with low-to-moderate ecosystem engagement. Yet only 24 percent of executives across all organizations said they use partners outside the organization as an innovation channel.

Platform provider roles and responsibilities

Platform providers should support their partners by providing technical expertise, resources and scale, including:

  • Onboarding, migration and technical enablement services to help businesses modernize operations with cloud-native technologies.
  • Working closely with partners to support architectural reviews, creating proofs of concept and running cloud pilots.
  • Developing, training and staffing innovation centers where businesses can co-develop solutions.
  • Supporting participating ISV and SaaS providers to help onboard solutions to partners’ clouds when necessary.
  • Helping provide funding, workforce and other resources, to accelerate go-to-market efforts for clients.
  • Providing eligible ISV startups with access to technology usage credits, developer tools, educational resources and technical support to build and deploy cloud, mobile, analytics, AI and other next-generation projects.

I’d like to emphasize a few points in the list above that are particularly important to ecosystem success.

Training and skills development

As businesses digitize different processes, their challenges include the need to manage data across clouds, modularize applications to make them more portable in a hybrid cloud environment, establish an effective security architecture, comply with local and global regulations and further automate operations. Partners say that now, more than ever, there is a need to co-create and co-innovate to help clients understand the impact of digital transformation on business and society, and to build an outcome-focused response that will help them emerge smarter. Investments in ecosystem partners—whether through cloud credits, technical resources or training and certification—are crucial to meeting your clients where they are today and providing them with the broad range of software and services they will need to be successful in the future.

It is incumbent upon platform providers to invest in training and skills development that will facilitate ecosystem partner co-creation with their clients. These clients face increasingly complex challenges due to the sharp increase in digital imperatives across industries, exacerbated by the impact of an ongoing global pandemic that has accelerated existing trends toward cloud adoption.

Go-to market strategy

In addition to offering training and skills development, platform providers need to execute joint go-to-market plans that ensure their ISV partners can make their software available in containers to run in a hybrid cloud environment and their GSI partners can integrate these solutions into their clients’ IT environments. Ecosystems can help clients accelerate their go-to-market strategy by providing a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to, for example, modernize and containerize applications to be migrated to the cloud.

Cameron Clayton, General Manager, IBM Partner Ecosystem and Weather

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