Vital partnership or unholy alliance? Decoding the software/service provider relationship

Software vendors and experience agencies need to work together to build great digital experiences, but how they actually work together is a mystery.
Written by Forrester Research, Contributor

Software vendors such as Adobe, Salesforce, and SAP and experience agencies such as Accenture Interactive, MRM McCann, and VMLY&R need each other to survive. And you need them to work well together to build you great -- and differentiated -- digital experiences. The worst-case alternative is project failure and maybe losing your job.

But how they actually work together is a mystery. Do they work for your best interests? I think they would like to -- and will always tell you they do -- but sometimes they don't (see Figure 1). You'll notice a third player in the figure, because here come cloud platform providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, and they make things even more complicated!

Time to do some research! We drew on hundreds of client inquiries and interviews with 17 software vendors and service providers to find out what's really going on. We found an alliance landscape that's often hidden from view and rapidly shifting as software-as-a-service (SaaS) becomes the norm.

Figure 1: Partners' Motivations Are Not Always Aligned With Each Other Or With Your Needs


Here's an essential truth: Bad software implementations will kill your project and maybe even your career. But it's hard for you to know how or why an experience project might go south or who is responsible for it. The information you may be able to get -- for example, the number of "certified developers" -- isn't enough to give you confidence that it will work. (Certified by whom? And what does "certified" even mean?)

Here are some takeaways from the research:

  1. Partners' incentives aren't always aligned for your success. Vendors sell software. They want to sell it all and sell it NOW. Service providers sell services. They want to sell solutions that require lots of services to succeed. How well are they aligned to serve your needs? Walk into any relationship with your eyes wide open.
  2. Understanding the value exchange will help digital leaders plan and execute. Start by understanding how software vendors and service providers each think about partnerships. That knowledge will empower you as you choose your suppliers and will protect you further during the delivery phase. In the report, we lay out best practices in partner programs to help both sides figure out how to work better together.
  3. Demand more transparency to move the entire industry forward. As a decision maker, you have every right to ask for full disclosure in terms of how these partnerships work. Make partnership details part of your selection process. This will lay the groundwork for an industry that badly needs to improve its certification and indemnification practices.
  4. Ask tough questions to find out how the software/service provider relationship will work. We have identified seven key considerations for CIOs and CMOs. For example, make your software and service provider selection in a coordinated fashion -- not separately by different teams but together in a single process. And demand that both sides are part of the process from the beginning.

By Ted Schadler, Vice President, Principal Analyst    

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