SAP's ecosystem

When you say the words "ecosystem" and "partnerships" to resellers you often get glazed eyes and a shrug of the shoulders.

When you say the words "ecosystem" and "partnerships" to resellers you often get glazed eyes and a shrug of the shoulders.

That reaction is often the result of the approach taken by most vendors, which seems to adhere to a philosophy of shoving on as much brochure type content online as they can and then hoping resellers will read it and chat to each other and form partnerships.

As a result "ecosystem" has often become a byword for a sort of virtual dumping ground that is often confusing and poor in terms of the user experience.

But SAP has a different approach and in his role as head of the vendor's global ecosystem and partner group Zia Yusuf is trying to get more resellers engaged online. He is trying to communicate to resellers that SAP's online approach is genuinely collaborative.

The key to the SAP philosophy is that at the heart of the ecosystem is the customer, who is able to interact with resellers, developers and the vendor.
Although that sounds simple the vast majority of web efforts seem to be built as a way of different elements of the supply chain to communicate about the user without them ever actually being present.

"An ecosystem needs to be collaborative. You can not control it, but you can monitor it and there needs to be ease of engagement and it has to be customer-centric," says Yusuf.

In many ways the question of ownership is also important because a vendor that tries to dominate the online world could find themselves losing out on some of the collaboration that will occur in a more relaxed environment.
"It is a little bit like a spider's web where no single strand is that strong or that impressive. But together it is pretty good and very difficult to break. It is much harder to build but it is also much harder to undo," he says.

Online a reseller will find not just other dealers and developers and SAP, but IBM, Cisco, F5 and Citrix all taking part in a virtual world that is designed to share information and inform all parties about the needs and the opportunities being created by customers.

Yusuf is keen to promote the developer network, often the crucial factor in a software company's ability to adapt and target vertical markets.

"There are 1.5 million people on the developer network and 7,000 posts a day and developers who are talking to customers and partners," he says.

There are also business process expert communities that allow CEOs of similar businesses to share views on their industry and as a result hand resellers information about where specific verticals are going and their current pain points.

Those who might view this all with a great deal of cynicism should take a closer look at the numbers.

"SAP is not doing 7,000 posts a day. There are many websites on the internet but very few communities. We have reached a critical mass and a point where we are having a discussion," he says.

SAP obviously has developers that are online trawling the website not just for direct queries to answer but also to feed back the market and trend information that could have an influence on the vendor's future strategy.

But for an ecosystem to have a serious impact the message from Yusuf is for some of the same online structures to be replicated offline and he mentions the buzz phrase "best practice".

"Companies including our competitors have pieces of this but nobody is looking at it this way. Normally as a business community the magic is a holistic integrated approach to this. Inside SAP we are structured like this," he says.

Despite selling the benefits Yusuf agrees that a portion of the channel continues to keep web-based collaboration at arms length, but he warned that as a result they could miss out on information and opportunities.

"If you are a typical software partner, channel partner and not involved you should be, not just because you become engaged with a number of other people but because it can do nothing but help your business," he says.

For those that make a living being a SAP specialist the ecosystem has already had an impact with them receiving points for any query that they help with. Those points are now being put on CVs and becoming a selling point when these developers and experts go for jobs.

The other crucial point that Yusuf acknowledges is the need to link commercial targets to its web activities. Fail to set targets and the web could easily become a bottomless pit of expenditure and effort.

"We run this as a line of business and all ecosystem activities are put in one place where they have revenue targets," says Yusuf.

"There are relatively sophisticated key performance indicators so we can continue to try to understand what are the economics of an ecosystem."

Some of the metrics that are taken very seriously are those of partner satisfaction and savings in time for both those who get a question successfully answered as well as those having to deal with the query.

SAP shows with its approach to online collaboration that taking the risk of not placing itself at the centre of the virtual universe has produced results. Those vendors that shy away from handing control of a system to users and resellers could pick up a few valuable hints.

As the world become more familiar with Web 2.0, with phenomenon such as Twitter galvanising people to communicate online, the expectation among more of those working in resellers, distributors and customers will be for vendors to provide useful online tools.

As Yusuf says, those resellers not taking part are "missing out" and that self-imposed exclusion can only become more costly as time goes by.

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