Protect Partners From Prying Eyes

If you're planning to roll out PRM, don't be surprised if your channel partners start asking you how you intend to protect and secure the confidential information they're expected to share with you online.

If youre planning to roll out PRM, dont be surprised if your channel partners start asking you how you intend to protect and secure the confidential information theyre expected to share with you online.

"Security is, and will continue to be, a big issue with partners when introducing them to a PRM system," said Paul Orzeske, vice president of e-business at Honeywell International Inc., in Morristown, N.J., which has gradually rolled out features of the Webridge PX Application Suite from Webridge Inc., in Beaverton, Ore., over the past year.

Naturally, there are certain technical measures a company can take to make sure its partner relationship management system is secure from hackers. But suppliers will also have to put some new business processes in place to get security-conscious partners to use the new system, said Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst with The Yankee Group Inc., in Boston.

If youre using PRM to sign up partners over the Web, for example, potential users may want to know exactly how you will verify the identity and qualifications of those allowed to use the PRM extranet, Orzeske said.

Thats especially true, he said, for PRM programs that involve concurrent collaboration between suppliers and multiple channel partners.

In Honeywells case, only companies with existing partner contracts are allowed to sign up to use the PRM system through the Web.

When a channel partner does attempt to sign up, Honeywell takes a full 48 hours to determine if the first-time user actually is who he says he is by checking information in Honeywells files, Orzeske said.

Honeywell also encourages new users to physically audit the companys PRM system. "We allow them to either use their own internal IT team to evaluate our operations, or send in an independent security company, or both," Orzeske said.

Another way suppliers can reassure partners is to give them a choice in what and how much information they share online, according to The Yankee Groups Kingstone.

"A partner shouldnt have to give up certain levels of privacy just to participate in the PRM effort at all," she said.

For example, most suppliers would love to know everything about the customers to whom their reseller partners are selling their products or services, Kingstone said. But sometimes resellers are reluctant to share that information because of the fear that suppliers will want to use it to sell to customers directly. So instead of asking for specific customer names, just require "soft data, like demographics and customer comments," Kingstone said.

A good PRM system will also be personalized for different users within the partner company, Kingstone added. For example, a partners executives should be able to decide how much data one of their salespeople can access or how much IT workers can see.

The bottom line? PRM is not about forcing partners to do what you want, Kingstone said. "The point is collaboration."