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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