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FIRST PERSON: When friend is foe

FIRST PERSON: When friend is foe

Being a faithful supporter of world peace and minimum stress lifestyles, I don't envy the predicament of Novell's senior management. Since merging with Cambridge these guys and gals get up every morning in the face of possible corporate buggery with the sole aim of avoiding it. It's an ironical, yet necessary, position of owning a business unit that is in direct competition to oneself.

Novell is by no means alone in this predicament. Skim the business world and you'll uncover a multitude of similar marriages at every level. The stark fact is that the nature of partnerships is changing, with exclusive relationships becoming less viable for all. Alliances are now forged around mutual opportunity, and anyone who thinks it's impossible to ever work with a fellow opponent (excuse the oxymoron) is indulging in fairyland naivety.

Dell fervently advertises that it doesn't have resellers and isn't looking for them, yet concedes it will work with them if the customer requires it. Meanwhile, resellers working with Dell swear black and blue about the vendor's shoddy delivery and account keeping. They threaten that the vendor would rot at the bottom of their purchasing list if it wasn't for the customer's specific request.

On the one hand, this recent phenomenon forms an abstract analogy for world peace - enemies uniting for a higher cause with money being the immediate goal. Not too noble perhaps, but behind it sits the instinctive quest for survival. Unfortunately, the will to survive is also a little ruthless. The worst case scenario has already been played out in Australia with Microsoft leading the fold with Accenture. Their consulting and integration company, Avanade, has been poaching consultants from existing local partners, acquiring intellectual property for upcoming projects and trialling five corporate customers. Oops! - trod on a few unfortunate toes there didn't they.

It's like one of those romances that survive purely on the basis that one partner does not become uninteresting and hence unlovable. However, unlike lust-driven partnerships the whole mystery thing doesn't work here, so you just have to go for plain differentiation - offering that tantalising tidbit that someone else can't. Research and development, and a consistent stream of new products would seem kind of key here. But considering the current economic climate, there isn't a huge amount of spare cash and the governments' attitude to tax breaks on R&D leaves little incentive, especially for the little guys. The alternative however, is competing on price point, a practice that will always result in discomfort - I just ask the PC vendors.

Trying to work with all these partners in a harmonious manner will be the real challenge. Arguably, a marriage of convenience only works if the parties refrain from getting emotionally involved. Now this doesn't bode too well for good old Loyalty, but where exactly does it leave Trust? You can trust someone without actually liking them. You can predict their behaviour without trusting them, which is an element of trust in itself. You can trust someone despite their desires being contrary to your own because this creates a non-trust confidence. The only real problem arises when the person you don't trust starts being deceitful about their desires.

Oh how we revel in the awkward intricacies of relationships. I take my hat off to all the brave players who've taken to the altar and accepted the challenge.Agnes spends most of her time writing news and features for ARN. Drop her a lead at agnes_king@idg.com.au


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