In previous columns I've waxed lyrical about the need for VARs and systems integrators to develop `go-to-market' initiatives with their vendors, which define mutual goals, specify joint resources and articulate a balance of returns for both parties.
With any go-to-market initiative, you spend a tremendous amount of time and resources jointly developing your strategic plan with your vendor partners. What next? The value of the plan is not in its development, but in its implementation. And the successful implementation of the plan requires efficient collaboration among all virtual team members in both your company and your vendors.
Sound trite? Think again, and note our keyword - efficient. The concept of collaboration isn't banal when you consider the costs associated with lack of joint communication, nor when you acknowledge the expense associated with it.
Collaboration - you gotta do it. Why is collaboration crucial during the implementation phase? Simple. This is the point at which the customer opens the most critical eye, and is wariest about the bottom-line reality of the solution. Will the implementation be on schedule? Will it go over budget? Will it really deliver what is expected? Does the team have the required implementation expertise?
Because of these very real anxieties, the entire team must operate in total harmony - the responsibility cannot fall on the shoulders of one person. You need to make sure that all team members know who is responsible for specific `who, what, when and how' action items. Everyone must remain focused on the agreed-upon goals of the plan.
Market or customer variables may call for an adjustment in the implementation plan, and the entire team must be up-dated when action items are completed. Because the implementation plan lives, breathes, and constantly evolves, the only way to stay on track in delivery of an on-time, at-budget solution is by engaging in regular, all-party collaboration.
So how do you do it? But therein lies the crux. Considering the fact that delivery team members - comprising sales, technical, marketing, support and service personnel from your company and your vendors' organisations - are located around the country (even across the globe), true collaboration can be extre-mely expensive. It's just not viable to meet face-to-face with all team members with the regularity necessary to achieve the expected implementation results. And relying on phone calls, e-mail, faxes and snail mail to update the team falls frighteningly short of the required level of collaboration.
Thankfully, a wide range of collaboration tools and options are now available to geographically disperse delivery teams. Options can be categorised into software you use over the Internet via standard Web browsers, and rentable or hosted collaboration services. By using one of these approaches - in tandem with a telephone conference call to connect the team for voice communications - all team members will be able to see the plan and make revisions to it via real-time document sharing.
Software. There is a huge variety of collaboration software products available today. A lot of them are feature-rich, free or inexpensive, and in many cases can be accessed directly through your Web browser. Some of the most notable names include Netscape Conference and Microsoft NetMeeting. WebEx Meetings (www.webex.com) is another option. And for collaboration capabilities designed specifically for solution planning and implementation, ChannelWave (www.channelwave.com) and OnTarget (www.ontarget.com) have teamed up to develop a software tool to support OnTarget's CHAMP (Channel and Alliance Management Process) program.
Rentable/hosted services. Using this approach, team members are brought together to collaborate in a private workspace, hosted and administered by the provider or an ISP. Companies offering these services include WebEx, with its WebEx Meeting Center Hosted Service, and Lotus, with its Instant!TEAMROOM rentable collaborative application.
The above products and services represent only a small handful of the collaboration options available to delivery team members. Evaluate all the options, and make your decision based on your unique needs. We strongly encourage you to begin your research now. These collaboration tools are cost-effective methods to avoid implementation mistakes.
Collaboration is not a dirty word, it's a success word!
Carol Johnson is principal consultant for channels and alliance practice Pelorus International. Reach them at http://www.pelorusintl.com.au