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The Next Wave in Collaboration? Lessons from Platform Ecosystems, Part 3: From Governance Committees to Governing Principles

Posted By Contributed by Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, Friday, January 11, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In my Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly article about the emerging profession of the ecosystem manager, I mentioned that the most extreme examples of ecosystem management were found around platform organizations such as Facebook and Apple. What inspiration can we draw from the way these manage companies their ecosystems? New best practices are emerging that require us to rethink at least four of the tenets of alliance management. In the third and final article in this series on the topic, I discuss the evolution of governance practice and other ways in which ecosystem management is, could, or should influence the evolution of alliance management practices.

Governance: From Committees to Principles

Traditional governance structures contain committees and teams, each with their own tasks and accountability. Such governance structures have been proven effective in building bridges between organizations. Governance structures also had some downsides. With typically three layers of committees in alliances, decision-making could be slow. Moreover, they require much managerial attention, particularly from middle management. With an increasing number of partners, the risk of overloading managers with alliance work becomes real. Further slowing down of decision-making may result. The growth in the number of partners is limited by the capacity of managers to take them on.

Platform based ecosystems coordinate at least a subset of their partners based on principles and standardized governance processes. This increases their capacity to manage a higher number of partners. The developments around smart contracts also may help here in the future: agreed upon rules may be programmed into smart contracts, lessening the burden of governance. Smart contracts may at least partly replace work done by governance committees. An interesting question is whether this will lead to more or less standardization in alliance models.

What does all this mean?

Much of the partnering activity around platforms diverges from traditional definitions of alliance management. It involves new forms of collaboration that may not fit with how ASAP defines alliances. That does not mean it is not relevant for alliance management. First of all, alliances may evolve into or be replaced by these new forms of partnering. Second, companies will increasingly focus on optimizing the entire ecosystem around their platform including clients, suppliers, complementors, app builders, content parties and, of course, alliances. Defining alliances has always been difficult because there are many gray areas. With the rise of new forms of collaboration it is increasingly important for companies to understand all the shades of gray. Third, even though such new forms may be different from traditional alliances, opportunities for learning from them exist. Just like client supplier relationships and public-private partnerships learned from alliances, alliances may learn from platform based ecosystems.

These are reasons to look at collaboration more broadly rather than focusing exclusively on strategic alliances. This does not mean that all best practice developed since ASAP’s inception become irrelevant. It does mean we need to have a better understanding about when they work and when they do not work. Where they do not work we need to develop new best practices that help us ride the next wave of collaboration.

Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, is professor of management studies at the School of Business and Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A longtime ASAP member, he also is a consultant to companies and not-for-profits.

ASAP Media encourages diversity of thought and opinion as partnering practice and the profession of alliance management continually expand and evolve. To contribute your voice to the conversation, on this or other seminal topics relating to business collaboration, please contact John W. DeWitt, editor and publisher of ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance magazines, at 646-232-6620 or jdewitt@asapmedia.org.

Tags:  alliance  alliance-specific strategy  Ard-Pieter de Man  ASAP European Alliance Summit  ASAP Strategic Alliance Quarterly  governance  John Deere  launching  managing  negotiation  partner selection  Philips Light  planning  structuring  traditional alliance diagnostics  transformation  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 

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The Next Wave in Collaboration? Lessons from Platform Ecosystems, Part 2: From Diagnostics to Data Monitoring

Posted By Contributed by Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, Thursday, January 10, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In my Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly article about the emerging profession of the ecosystem manager, I mentioned that the most extreme examples of ecosystem management were found around platform organizations like Facebook and Apple. What inspiration can we draw from the way these companies manage their ecosystems? Many existing alliance best practices do not fit well with these characteristics of ecosystems. To deal with them, new best practices are emerging that require us to rethink at least four of the tenets of alliance management. In my first article, I address the shift in the alliance lifecycle from phases to “minimum viable partnerships” or MVPs, as Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, described in her presentation at November 8-9, 2018 ASAP European Alliance Summit. In the second of three blogs on this topic, I examine how monitoring and partner selection are evolving in ecosystems.

Monitoring: From Diagnostics to Data

The standard way of diagnosing alliances is to send surveys to people involved in the alliance and ask them to rate, on a scale, to what extent various success factors are in place. Measures may relate to goals, trust, governance, operational effectiveness, and the like. By creating spider web diagrams, alliance diagnostics visualize where the strong and weak points of an alliance lie. In 2007, my own research into the effectiveness of different alliance tools showed that companies using such diagnostics are more successful than companies that don’t.

Recent technology developments enable us to monitor and diagnose alliances differently. At the ASAP European Alliance Summit, Laurent Valroff, worldwide global alliance lead at Dassault Systèmes, presented a software system developed in-house that ties into the CRM systems of alliance partners to ensure that both sides work on the basis of common information. At the same Summit I also ran into an executive from WorkSpan, a software maker that actually scales such a system in such a way that all ecosystem partners of a company can easily share and get access to relevant alliance information. (To learn more, see the Member Spotlight on WorkSpan in the Q4 issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly.) From this it will not be a big step to turn the diagnosis and monitoring of alliances into a real-time system.

By following how often partners log in to the system, where they spend the most time, and where they do not spend time at all, a picture emerges of how these relationship are doing. In the future, adding a few diagnostic questions may give results similar to traditional survey based tools, only faster and at lower cost. Whether such systems will be complements or substitutes for traditional diagnostics will remain to be seen, but it is clear that companies are already building the foundations for a new way of monitoring and diagnosing alliances: online and real-time.

Partnering: From Partner Selection to Partner Seduction

Another interesting feature of many ecosystems is the absence of partner selection. Instead, partners are seduced to join platforms by the promise of access to an interesting market. Standard rules apply that each partner must follow. If a partner does not adhere to the rules, that partner will be barred from the ecosystem. In place of partner selection, ecosystems rely on partner seduction followed by partner curation.

This is especially interesting because partner selection is such a key aspect of traditional alliance management. Traditionally, partner selection requires the study of strategic, cultural, and operational fit between partners, because fit predicts whether it will be possible to establish a strong relationship. Ecosystems turn things upside down: “Let’s start working together and find out whether there is a fit.” Again, this speeds up the process and it enables platform organizations to engage in many more partnerships than the traditional method.

In the third and final blog in this series, Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, examines how, in managing ecosystems, the governance process shifts from committees to principles, and then considers what the rise of ecosystems means for the evolving practice of alliance management. De Man is professor of management studies at the School of Business and Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A longtime ASAP member, he also is a consultant to companies and not-for-profits.

ASAP Media encourages diversity of thought and opinion as partnering practice and the profession of alliance management continually expand and evolve. To contribute your voice to the conversation, on this or other seminal topics relating to business collaboration, please contact John W. DeWitt, editor and publisher of ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance magazines, at 646-232-6620 or jdewitt@asapmedia.org.

Tags:  alliance  alliance-specific strategy  Ard-Pieter de Man  ASAP European Alliance Summit  ASAP Strategic Alliance Quarterly  governance  John Deere  launching  managing  negotiation  partner selection  Philips Light  planning  structuring  traditional alliance diagnostics  transformation  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 

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The Next Wave in Collaboration? Lessons from Platform Ecosystems, Part 1: From Alliance Lifecycle Phases to ‘Minimum Viable Partnerships’

Posted By Contributed by Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In my recent Q4 2018 Strategic Alliance Quarterly article about the emerging profession of the ecosystem manager, I mentioned that the most extreme examples of ecosystem management were found around platform organizations like Facebook and Apple. These platform-based ecosystems provide a glimpse into the future of alliance management. In fact, the future may already be here—and not just in information technology. At the November 8-9, 2018 ASAP European Alliance Summit, I heard about some fascinating examples of pharma companies that build platforms, use artificial intelligence, and connect an increasing variety of ecosystem partners. Other cases are easy to find: John Deere, not exactly a Silicon Valley start-up, and Signify (previously Philips Lighting) are examples of long-established companies that discovered that the mix of platforms and ecosystems holds great promise. What inspiration can we draw from the way these companies manage their ecosystems?

To answer that question, I focus on three characteristics of platform ecosystems.

  • First, the high speed of developments around platforms. As a consequence of that speed, partnerships need to be set up rapidly and must be easy to dissolve.
  • Second, increased unpredictability of new developments, because of the high diversity of technologies and business models that are introduced into the market.
  • Third, an increase in the number of partners, including many partnerships that are not traditional alliances.

Many existing alliance best practices do not fit well with these characteristics of ecosystems. To deal with them, new best practices are emerging that require us to rethink some of the classic tenets of alliance management. I will discuss four of them.

The Alliance Lifecycle: From Phases to “Minimum Viable Partnerships”

The alliance lifecycle has been one of the foundations of alliance management for more than twenty years. The lifecycle divides the process of alliance management into distinct steps:

  • setting the alliance-specific strategy
  • partner selection
  • negotiation
  • planning
  • structuring and governance
  • launching and managing
  • transformation

This structured process has proved to be very effective. It gives managers an alliance-building framework that ensures relevant issues are dealt with in the right order.

It has one huge drawback, though, in an ecosystem world: it is slow. It may take over a year before all the steps are covered. A second problem is that following all these steps in a strict order makes it difficult to adjust an alliance to changing circumstances. The alliance lifecycle assumes an alliance can be relatively stable for a longer time period and requires episodic instead of continuous change. In an ecosystem world, however, alliances may be in a continuous state of transformation.

Instead of using the alliance lifecycle, alliances may be seen as start-ups that evolve continuously and rapidly. Hence proposals begin to emerge to use the lean start-up methodology for alliances. At the 2018 ASAP European Alliance Summit, Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, showed how to adapt the firm’s “rhythm of business” methodology—in essence, how to use lean start-up methods—to create “minimum viable partnerships” that do not go at length through all the elements of the alliance lifecycle. This allows for fast partnering and continuous adaptation, and provides an alternative for the alliance lifecycle.

Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, is professor of management studies at the School of Business and Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. A longtime ASAP member, he also is a consultant to companies and not-for-profits. Part Two of this three-part blog series discusses how traditional alliance diagnostics make way for real-time monitoring of partner (or ecosystem) health.

ASAP Media encourages diversity of thought and opinion as partnering practice and the profession of alliance management continually expand and evolve. To contribute your voice to the conversation, on this or other seminal topics relating to business collaboration, please contact John W. DeWitt, editor and publisher of ASAP Media and Strategic Alliance magazines, at 646-232-6620 or jdewitt@asapmedia.org.

Tags:  alliance  alliance-specific strategy  Ard-Pieter de Man  ASAP European Alliance Summit  ASAP Strategic Alliance Quarterly  governance  John Deere  launching  managing  negotiation  partner selection  Philips Light  planning  structuring  traditional alliance diagnostics  transformation  Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 

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