Could partnering capability be the Achilles’ heel of ecosystems?
by Jan Twombly, CSAP and Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD

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Partnering in the ecosystem era

For any of the transformative effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to be fully realized, it will take an ecosystem of partners agilely working together in an orchestrated, yet open model. To add to the complexity, every customer scenario needs a different mix of partners, requiring stewardship of the ecosystem to have the partnerships to call upon when needed. Thus, technology and partnering in combination are today’s business imperative.

Ecosystem partnering brings together multiple companies with different capabilities and resources, different business models, and increasingly, various industry orientations to provide a holistic “solution” for a use case or specific customer situation. Numerous partnering models and value propositions are possible.

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An organization’s partnering capability has to touch every node of the relevant ecosystems to deliver value to the whole. The goal is to place the ability to create, deliver, and capture value at the edges of the enterprise – in the hands of the people and systems directly interacting with the customers, partners, and other stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Many companies are well versed in one-to-one partnering, and some are developing their multi-partner muscle, but not many can honestly say partnering is embedded top-to-bottom and end-to-end in strategy, operations, and last-mile execution. This degree of integration is essential to partner at the speed, scale, and scope required by customers. The partnering capability required today has three components which must work together seamlessly:

Robust, aligned strategy. An explicit partnering and ecosystem strategy that is a component of corporate strategy and aligns with business unit priorities. It drives resource allocation, ensuring that the core business is well supported by the right mix of partners, across multiple investment horizons to drive immediate, near term, and future innovation and growth.

Scalable operations through governance. Leading companies today are building an end-to-end governance process to drive integration with the business overall – from product development to customer-facing operations and sales, the underlying business infrastructure and, of course, with corporate strategy. This “uber” governance process takes a holistic look across the portfolio and business units, driving accountability and looking for leverage that can accelerate growth.

The ability to execute. It has never been truer that everyone needs some partnering skills, an appropriate mindset, and the tools to effectively execute partnering strategy. To an outsider, it looks simple. But anyone who has ever tried to align organizations with different objectives around a common purpose; understand motivations to create a path to achieving true interests; look to get appropriate prioritization and resources for a partnered project; get decisions made; gain access to expertise; protect intellectual property; build rules of engagement in the field; and manage competition with a partner knows just how hard it truly is!

Achilles’ heel or connective tissue?

Partnering is the connective tissue of the ecosystem. Without an enterprise partnering capability, it could become the Achilles’ heel – the exposed and unprotected weak spot – of any business seeking to create, deliver, and capture value in the ecosystems of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

About the Authors:

Jan Twombly and Jeff Shuman are the principals of The Rhythm of Business, a consultancy focusing on partnering and alliances. Shuman is professor of management at Bentley University and presented at the inaugural Drucker Forum

This article is one in the Drucker Forum “shape the debate” series relating to the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Power of Ecosystems”, taking place on November 21-22, 2019 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF19 #ecosystems

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