For ISVs: Time to be Picky

By David Lai  |  Print this article Print


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Now that the economy is edging toward recovery, business partners are re-examining new ways to grab a bigger share of IT spending. The basics haven't changed. We all want to provide customers the promise of superior solutions, technical expertise, and an understanding of their business imperatives.

Our ability to deliver on that promise is enhanced—or hampered, depending on our experience—by the major platform vendors we chose as allies. Vendors help deliver value-add services and technical savvy that instill confidence in our customers for the overall solution. They can make or break our business.

The Microsoft platform has created market opportunities for Independent software vendors (ISVs) who are comfortable sticking with Windows and emerging .Net software. Yet Microsoft, not unlike Oracle, competes with many of the same partners they support, putting the squeeze on smaller ISVs that compete in the enterprise space. IBM and BEA, the major-league J2EE vendors, offer proven application servers based on solid technology. So how do you pick a platform vendor?

This just isn't a technology decision anymore; it has far-reaching financial and business implications. Here are some factors to consider:

Factors to Consider

1. What about developers? Partners need a company that pays attention to the developer community. We need a variety of avenues for technical support, including a developer portal, 24-hour help desk and email support, mentoring, and more—as well as the broadest possible access to tools to make the development job easier. We need a platform that integrates with the open source Eclipse development environment.

2. What about technical services? There's more to services than a pre- and post-sales client engagement. Partners rely on vendors who, with the ISV, understand the end-customer's overall business needs. We need technical expertise for existing applications and business processes. We can use help developing industry knowledge beyond plain-vanilla Java. And since billions of transactions continue to run through legacy back-end systems, we sure can use the vendor's help in supporting them.

3. Who do we call for support help? The longer problems remain unresolved, the more unhappy the customer grows. If a partner has days to install a complex application, we need an immediate and cost-effective technical assessment to help with testing and performance tuning. We don't want to make three separate calls to platform, database and integration vendors to resolve a system failure. We want to call a single, accountable vendor that supports all hardware and software platforms. This puts IBM in an enviable position; they have solved the quandary of multiple support points and escalation procedures.

4. Are there hidden costs? Partners can trim costs by leading with a single platform. It's expensive to port, test and maintain multiple software platforms, especially when you have to support new releases of every platform in your partner's offering. Further, platforms cannot be judged by purchase price alone; the cost of the total lifecycle must be considered. ISVs are also internally burdened by maintenance costs, so we suffer double-edged price pressures. For example, the competitive purchase price of BEA's WebLogic belies the fact that customers are saddled with high yearly hikes in maintenance fees. It's the partners—not the platform vendor—who receive the customer complaints.

5. Where will you be five years from now? Whether they like it or not, pure-play companies are perceived by customers as takeover targets. A large bank or retailer doesn't want to wonder whether the platform they selected today will be supported tomorrow. Partners benefit from associating with a vendor that has longevity is an industry leader.

6. Proprietary or agnostic? The '90s generated considerable information technology (IT) spending as companies sold unique installations to single departments but this created business unit silos. Customer IT departments today are trying to integrate and update their investments. They can economize by selecting common vendor platforms that support a broad portfolio of software. That way, platforms and their support can be rationalized, simplified and integrated across the enterprise.

Choosing Wisely

In conclusion, a partnership with a platform vendor is more than a joint press release. It's a strategic investment in a company that shares your overall business and technology vision while offering expertise in your customer's industry. A vendor should help you and your customers achieve costs efficiencies, supply deep technical skills, and be readily available—sticking by you throughout the sales and installation cycle and beyond.

You are in business for the long haul and you will live with your platform choice for many years. Make it wisely.

David Lai has been involved in developing enterprise software with a focus in Business Intelligence and Enterprise Portals for the past 15 years. He is the CTO of Viador, an IBM partner, Viador develops business intelligence development tools for systems integration/ISV partners and enterprise customers. He can be contacted at dlai@viador.com