Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The End of Partner Ecosystems

For three decades, the formula for success in software was pretty well understood. Not easy to execute but clear. It was called the ecosystem. You need a channel of resellers and perhaps even distributors around the world to sell your software. You need implementation partners - small, local boutique firms as well as professional services practices at the large system integrators. You need ISVs - partners who build their solutions in a way that complements yours. You need training delivered by your training partners and perhaps also partners to administer the tests and certifications. And you may also need some influencers in your camp - journalists, bloggers, analysts, or marketing agencies. A magazine named after your software platform will do just fine...

If you have a magazine, you have an ecosystem alright!
Microsoft hasn’t invented this formula - that honor goes probably to Novell all the way to the late 80s - but Microsoft perfected it. For decades, Microsoft’s authorized resellers, authorized distributors, certified partners, certified professionals, MVPs, authorized testing centers, ISVs, system integrators, consultants, OEMs and other types of partners were helping Microsoft to attain its dominance. An entire ecosystem of partners participated in the massive software economy created by Microsoft and other vendors. These partners were necessary to scale the business by providing local point of sale, planning and deployment services, training, and complementary software and hardware. The vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, HP, or IBM provided the platforms that enabled their respective ecosystems. It was a symbiotic relationship - the platform vendors needed the partners and the partners depended on the platform vendor.

Symbiotic relationships can work
Fast forward to 2012 - when a new type of information technology economy is being shaped. The platforms are running in the cloud and the platform vendors are striving to provide the most integrated set of services - from infrastructure software to applications, from servers to mobile devices. Apple and Google are leading the way and vendors such as Microsoft and Oracle are rushing to catch up.  They are building their own cloud offerings and also the hardware - tablets and servers.

The big difference is that the new economy does not require an ecosystem of partners. As the software is sold and delivered via the cloud, it no longer requires a channel of resellers, consultants, and system integrators to implement the solutions. The software is increasingly simple which reduces training needs and the only hardware required is the hardware that runs the cloud. And even that hardware is increasingly custom made - just think about the custom server blades that comprise the famous Google data centers!

Sure, there will probably always be the independent software vendors (ISVs) with apps that leverage the platforms but most of them will be under constant pressure of being squeezed out. As for other types of partners - they are no longer required. The consultants might find work providing advice on the best use of the software and system integrators may find opportunities around migration projects or projects related to hybrid environments. But in the  long term, they are not wanted anymore. Just think about it - what partners do you need when you switch to Gmail? Or to Office 365?

It’s a new world now and the partner ecosystems might no longer have a place in it. Or do they?


  1. Lubor, great thoughts, but I think ISV's are going to be critical. Applying vertical expertise and integrating these cloud systems together isn't going to magically happen.


    1. Thanks for your comment and for the rebuttal post, Laurence (aka Pie). I have actually conceded that ISVs remain important for any software platform in my post. ISVs are not going away. What's going away is the notion of an ecosystem that consists of many types of "species", not just ISVs.

  2. Lubor, thought provoking post.

    Recently our organization did a migration to Google Apps and I thought it was interesting that Google referred us to a reseller, Cloud Sherpas, to purchase our licenses and perform the migration.

    So it seems there is still some "species" that will survive in the ecosystem, but I agree, not all are necessary anymore.

  3. Interesting post. Yes, cloud could change the way things are sold, but we might find that the old 'ecosystem' may not go quietly into the night. Note that ISVs like the ecosystem, and more importantly they like the 'way' things are sold. SW licensing makes everyone on that side of the equation happy. Its predictable, upfront payment, easy to comp sales team, forecast demand, etc...To the Google comment above, I can also confirm that all of the major IaaS vendors (MSFT, AWS, GOOG, ORCL, HP, Rackspace)are trying desperately to include the ecosystem in the cloud sales model.