And finally, the system needs to be viewed as a dynamic, interconnected network of constituents. Although it doesn’t need to be difficult to decipher, an ecosystem is necessarily more complex than a simple partnership.
Partnerships are one to one relationships. They can be as structured as a strategic alliance, where the two parties make formal revenue commitments and drive sales jointly, or as casual as two sales reps meeting for coffee occasionally. But’s driven by two organizations with common objectives and a belief that mutual revenue will result from interacting with each other.
Effective partnerships happen when the two companies are highly aligned with each other. Corporate cultures, organizational styles, and compensation programs are complementary, making it easy to work with each other. Distributors and resellers have built their businesses around aligning to the vendors with whom they partner, epitomizing the approach to partnering.
Partner programs are one to many relationships. Vendors build programs to provide benefits to groups of partners. Programs help categorize partners by how they specialize and by their level of commitment to the vendor. Partners derive value through financial benefit, influence with the vendor, and non-monetary support such as technical enablement.
When a vendor develops a set of partner programs, it’s easy to mistake that collection of programs for an ecosystem. But unless the constituents in the programs have independent and systematic access to each other, there is no ecosystem.
A true ecosystem is a set of many to many relationships between partners in the “feeding system” and the influencers in the “energy flows.” As described in Part 2, the flow of money and the exchange of ideas are critical to a sustaining a vibrant ecosystem.
And as the ecosystem matures, there is less need for a single orchestrator to direct the activities of each constituent. Two parties may work together on a project or deal that has benefits that reverberates through the ecosystem. This is fundamentally what differentiates an ecosystem from a set of partner programs.
Open source computing models provide the basis for a mature ecosystem. Open systems have long been heralded as the antidote to vendor lock-in, but in reality, the true value of open computing is the fluidity of ideas, and increasingly the opportunity for new economic models.
For example, when a vendor makes a service available as an API, there are several ways to monetize that service, either through direct sales, revenue sharing, or advertising. Highly mature online communities, fueled by social business, create the platform for this exchange that benefits the entire ecosystem.
Summarizing all three parts
In summary, any organization looking to build an ecosystem needs to start with a three-pronged plan:
Define the whole and the sum of the parts
- Who are the constituents?
- How do they interact?
People and assets required from each constituent
- Who is creating the assets?
- What are the assets?
- Who is doing the selling?
Money and content
- How does the money flow through the ecosystem?
- What kind of content needs to flow through the ecosystem and what channels will the content require?
Answering these questions is a lot harder than it sounds. But as the industry moves into this next paradigm of computing, getting these answers right will be critical to every vendor’s success.