Blog April 3, 2018

Community building in an open software ecosystem

By Brian Zrimsek

The third topic in our “Ten ways to tell if your enterprise software provider is open” series is community in the software ecosystem. Here we are looking for ways to foster a partner community with active engagement of third-party software providers in strategic conversations at all levels of the organization.

Let’s discuss the idea of fostering a community or sponsoring an ecosystem. Both phrases bring to mind vivid images of one party executing a strategy for the greater good. Sponsors take proactive steps to create and maintain a community of product and services partners. They dedicate resources. They build relationships. They plan together. They win together. The sponsor builds the technology to enable openness, and they make sure others can join and have success.

How do you foster a community and sponsor a software ecosystem?

Much like recruiting, onboarding and managing employees, the process of fostering a robust partner program requires resources and programs across many points in the lifecycle. There are three key steps you need to take in order to sponsor a healthy software ecosystem: Recruit, certify, and seek value.

Recruit

The process always starts with recruiting and identifying potential partners. With a seemingly never-ending stream of new technologies and innovations, it’s important to strategically admit partners to the program. Some target partners may be obvious choices as they have already penetrated the client base of the enterprise software provider. Others may be less obvious candidates as they are just emerging in their space. Either way, a formal recruiting, vetting and onboarding process is a key component to community. Membership in the ecosystem must then be managed to ensure value is driven to all parties within the ecosystem.

Certify

Once a part of the program, there should be some form of certification process to verify expertise. For services partners, the sponsor of the ecosystem should attest to their capabilities. For product partners, the sponsor of the ecosystem should validate that integrations have been thoroughly tested prior to general availability.

Seek value

In addition to certifications and integrations, partners should gain additional value as members of the ecosystem. Attend events that bring the ecosystem together for educational purposes as well as for commercial purposes. Educating partners as a group is a great way to share strategy and direction while also fostering relationships. Including partners at marquee user conferences and other key events further enables the ecosystem by ensuring that any critical mass of clients is exposed to both the sponsor and the members of the ecosystem.

Aside from the macro-level events, you should also see the ecosystem manifest in day-to-day activities. This may look like a jointly orchestrated product demonstration, co-sponsoring an event at an industry conference or something as simple as introducing one organization to the other’s client.

So you’ve taken these three steps. Now what?

For this to work, of course, there must be a trusting relationship across the organizations. There must be alignment of strategy and intent. The members of the ecosystem must be working together symbiotically and not adversarially.

As you look at your enterprise software provider, do you find strong evidence of a partner community or are you left with the feeling that they prefer to go it alone? Are they engaging with partners because they want to, because they have to, or not at all?

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