In the late 1990s, portals and public and private exchanges were introduced amidst much fanfare. From medical equipment to automotive parts, a variety of industries tried to create and roll out their own supplier portal and marketplace solutions. But the majority of exchanges failed; the technical and administrative costs outweighed the benefits of participating. They created casual, flimsy associations for new participants and didn't add significant value for existing strategic relationships.
Today, while the focus on bringing companies together into collaborative communities driven by business transactions remains the same, the technology to accomplish this has matured. Cloud computing is a major new building block, bringing new levels of performance, security, availability and dynamic flexibility to multi-enterprise, multinational business networks. And as a subset of "the Cloud," the software as a service (SAAS) model is easy to implement, customize and maintain, connecting multiple business systems to sync communication and drive collaboration.
Whether researching a new drug, designing an airplane, buying international amenities for a luxury hotel or managing offshore manufacturing of MP3 players, companies today depend on a global community of partners. SAAS applications delivered in a cloud computing environment seem like the ideal new architecture to deliver on the promise that portals and exchanges failed to live up to. However, unless companies focus on that vital detail of making sure partners actually use the solution, then the idea of communities enabled by cloud computing and SAAS will also die a slow death.
If you build it, they will come
If companies want SAAS to live up to its potential in a community-focused business model-centralizing communication, collaboration and business synchronicity across multiple, diverse companies-they need to augment technology implementation with a fresh approach to partner management.
In an extended business community, partners may not report directly to you, meaning you must manage by influence-especially if you're not a big brand company that has the sway of Walmart, Apple or Hewlett-Packard. And even in cases where partners do report to you, you probably lack insight into who else is using up their time and capacity. As a result, one pitfall that companies too often face is partner participation: making SAAS onboarding easy, compelling and sustainable.
Does SAAS success or failure rest solely on IT's shoulders? No. But IT should work to educate the business side of the company to create shared responsibility for effective SAAS implementations. The following are suggestions for how to make that happen.