Douglas R. Vandagens

New business development and strategy lead, Covisint

Amid all the computer integration, sometimes the toughest thing is figuring out which partnerships to plug into.

Douglas R. VanDagens probably feels that pressure more acutely than most executives in electronic commerce today.

As the lead manager for new business development and strategy at Covisint, the electronic exchange and collaboration platform for automakers, VanDagens is in charge of negotiating the technology partnerships that will power a marketplace with the potential to do $350 billion in transactions per year.

"Its all new ground," says VanDagens.

And everyone wants to move onto it. Because of the combined purchasing power of DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor, General Motors, Renault Group and other automakers expected to participate, software vendors are barraging Covisint with proposals.

"Everyone flies to Detroit. Theres a lot of temptation," he says. The trick is keeping balance.

"We have to resist striking too many deals so operationally we cant handle it," he says. "The principal issue is, whats our scope? " Things like figuring out how many partnerships Covisint wants, how much it wants to keep in-house, what it wants to do.

The job is complicated less by technological issues than the ways companies do business, VanDagens says.

"Business compatibility is tougher," he says. "The normal sales process is 18 months for some companies. Were dealing with lots of [original equipment manufacturers] and tier 1s, used to doing business a certain way," he says, referring to auto industry suppliers. "Change will be slow."

After serving 14 years at Ford, VanDagens says hes seeing a blending of business cultures in Covisint, where Motor City meets Silicon Valley.

"Automotive companies arent striking lots of Internet multi-enterprise deals," but now thats changing. Long used to doing things their way, they are now entering short-term deals with technology vendors to see if its compatible with Covisint.

"Theyre making concessions," VanDagens says of the automakers.

So are technology vendors, some of which are also big enough to be accustomed to doing things their way. "In California, they sell to everyone, everywhere," but they will do exclusive deals to partner with Covisint, he says.