Don’t sell yourself (a continent) short


In an earlier entry on service delivery platforms (SDPs) I did my best to put the spurs to service providers to crack down on systems integrators running the same horses from their stable of software steeds in every race. On the one hand, you can’t blame the SIs for doing what works. If they have a few long-running, you-wash-my-hand-and-I-wash-yours relationships and the service providers are willing to bet on whatever they bring to post, it saves them from actually auditioning new vendors to jockey for position with the usual suspects.

On the other hand, these comfy feet-in-stirrups arrangements take service providers into an entirely different realm where they continue paying more than they should for “icebergs”: Software products that look manageable on the surface but cost $5 or more in integration for every upfront software license dollar, whose integration headaches and hidden costs can sink your next B/OSS project. Products that have forced service providers to navigate these icy waters for so long that we at MarketPOWER now have them telling us things like, “I don’t ever want to buy another piece of software again as long as I live, I think we’re going to try handling future B/OSS through managed service providers (MSPs).”

That’s certainly one way to go…with caveats. At CommTech (later acquired by ADC) we launched the world’s first application service provider (ASP) hosted B/OSS offering–or at least the first one that anybody actually sold to a carrier (first customer: Canadian CLEC CTI)–and frankly, we had mixed results with it as a sustainable business model. You’ll more readily recognize “ASP” today wearing the moniker software as a service (SaaS), and the jury is still out on whether ASP/SaaS/MSP is the right delivery mechanism for B/OSS solutions. Having said that, a number of firms, including our runner-up for the 2008 Billing & OSS World Service Assurance Excellence award, Integrated Broadband Services, are in fact offering B/OSS via MSP, and IBS has deployed its BBX 4.4 and I-Focus offerings at more than 110 service providers throughout the Americas. So: Generalizing never, ever works. It is always wrong to generalize about everyone…

But back to the world of deployed software where most B/OSS players still live. We contend that service providers should insist on more complete software solutions that deliver superior price/performance instead of those less ready for prime time that require years of SI software-wrestling/plumbing [choose your metaphor but read as: oceans of billable SI hours] to finally deliver the hoped-for result. In 1996 Keith Willetts and Beth Adams co-authored “The Lean Communications Provider,” a landmark in our industry. Today the world is starting to grasp the power of Web 2.0 to create less “push” marketing and more “pull.” In that spirit I would respectfully suggest that more than a decade after the Willetts-Adams work it is high time service providers demanded the emergence of The Lean Systems Integrator, and that software vendors find both new sales venues and new ways to generate market pull for their offerings.

So I am delighted to see the emergence of a class of providers, most prominently Adivent, offering a way for independent software vendors (ISVs) in other world regions to rapidly begin marketing their wares across Europe without the expense and logistical/government regulatory nightmares to set up their own offices in-region and in-country. Billions of Euros are going to change hands in EMEA in the next few years for B/OSS solutions and smart ISVs, especially those now trying to sell into substantially-consolidated markets such as the U.S., would do well to deal themselves into the game (or since it’s Europe, “match”). Adivent is not an integrator. It offers a stable of a different kind: Deeply-experienced professionals with ready access to the top executives, technical and financial decision makers at the companies that every ISV with a brain would love to sell to. This is a great option for small ISVs, not just as an alternative to opening and operating your own overseas sales office but also as compared to the painful and often fruitless process of trying to “push”-market your way into an SI’s standard framework/solution set. (Or as one executive put it to me recently, “trying to BD them into submission.”)

So where’s the “pull”? When Adivent or others put you in play at some of the world’s leading service providers in Europe, some of whom are in the driver’s seat at the IPsphere Forum (recently acquired by the TM Forum), and these top telcos choose to work with you directly, or direct their SIs to work with you…you get the idea.

We started this piece with equestrian metaphors, so it seems fitting to end it by talking about who’s in the driver’s seat in a race that’s looking a lot less like the Derby these days and a lot more like Indy.

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