Editors Note: March 12, 2001

Tier-one vendors seem to be taking partnering more seriously than ever before.

Tier-one vendors seem to be taking partnering more seriously than ever before. In fact, theyre in the process of building databases to link together business partners with different skill sets and in different geographies.

That idea is not new. Matchmaking services have been talked about since 1997, and private groups like License Online and PartnerAxis have been making a business of it in recent years. But now companies like IBM and Microsoft are joining the game in an effort to push their e-business initiatives down into the midmarket.

The reason is simple. If e-business is to work—and if these vendors want to sell more products—it has to take off in this sector. Fortune 100 corporations bought into the idea of core competencies and specialization long ago, because they do their own number crunching and can measure cost-efficiencies and ROI. They were the first to buy into CRM, and theyre way ahead in the Web-to-legacy integration thats necessary to compete in a service economy dominated by the Net.

Midsize companies dont have the internal IT staffs necessary to compete in this market, so they have to rely on outside services. But providers of those services are specializing, in part because integration projects are getting so complex that no one can do everything and in part because there simply arent enough skilled people to expand into new areas.

IBM and Microsoft did not just come up with this idea on their own. Their business partners have been complaining that theyre missing out on opportunities because they dont know where to find partners, and other service providers looking for their particular skill sets dont know where to find them. The solution is a matchmaking database listing certifications, geographical coverage and contact information.

Service providers need to use e-business to make e-business work. Its a little like Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer preaching that Microsoft uses its own products internally. You need to know where the problems are to effectively solve them. But now they need to go a step further. Just as vendors have opened their architectures at the behest of customers, they need to link their databases with those of other vendors. A single-vendor partnering database can never live up to its full potential.

We should all have learned something from Apples failure to license its user interface, which was probably one of the biggest gaffes in the history of high-tech. Business is about better products, better service and better relationships—heavy emphasis on relationships. If you cant supply everything your customers need, the opportunity is in meeting those needs as easily as possible.