While a few felt that there might be some validity to the premise that business partners are being squeezed out of the equation, none viewed it as a paramount concern to their business.Each business partner we spoke to felt that effective communications foster good business partner relationships.Issues seem to come up when there is a breakdown in the line of communication."
We asked the question verbatim as we received it from Directions.Here are some excerpts from the responses we received.
Dale Dunham, Geographic Information Services
"We've been an ESRI Business Partner for just about a decade, and in the beginning we fit the description he gave, which is we were primarily a software seller.We did light consulting services and training, but the majority of our revenue came from software sales related activities.As we see the industry tending toward vertical markets, ESRI has also taken a more vertical oriented approach, and they support their business partners in that process as well...
"Where once we depended upon software sales in the southeast region, we now are based on a vertical market approach that has targeted local government particularly planning and land use agencies and military installations.We feel that ESRI actually steered us in that process of how to become a solutions provider rather than a software reseller... "We have just recently been part of ESRI's winning team with the city of Chicago to provide zoning services for them.We are providing the core application, the training, and ESRI is providing database integration and some other services.So, while we're actually not large enough to capture that account on our own, ESRI brought us in for our specialized expertise as part of the team.That's pretty representative of the type of relationship that we've had....
"There is a grain of truth in that premise.The model is changing.And the companies that continue to see themselves as software resellers are in fact being squeezed out.But I don't think that means squeezed out by ESRI.They're being squeezed out by the change of the market.People don't just want someone who can deliver a turnkey to them.They want someone who uses GIS technology to solve the business problem that they have in front of them...
"You have to specialize in the areas where you have some core expertise.So the people who aren't developing that core expertise in some vertical market probably are feeling like they are being locked out of the market.But it's like they're still riding horse and buggy.When you look at the types of services that ESRI provides, it isn't that they're out there competing with their business partners, it's that they're trying to understand specific problems in strategic vertical markets so that they can incorporate more tools into the product to support that.They push those tools down to us as quickly as possible to then penetrate the market for them.So they need to keep that involvement in some strategic accounts... "It's incumbent on the business partner to maintain the kind of relationship they want with the mother ship.I find that as long as I keep my lines of communication open and I don't treat ESRI as my competitor, they in turn treat me as a member of their family.As a result we've gone through a complete business model change in terms of how we do business and where our revenue comes from.So much of that came about by being in touch with the industry vertical managers and the regional offices and feeding off of their core expertise--their sense of what clients want."
Milan R.Mueller, President, The Omega Group, San Diego
"The key that we're looking at is ever since we've become a business of ESRI we have always tried to understand what our role would be and what ESRI's role would be, because it's easy for the fences to get blurred.We're almost always reestablishing and addressing these particular issues....
"I can see where people would think this perception exists.There is a responsibility on both sides and I think it really puts a responsibility on the independent business partner to be in close communication with the company to make sure the lines are distinct on how we are trying to do things because we are brought on to provide a value-added and we've worked very hard to do that and that's a responsibility that we share.My experience has been when we give the effort to work through these issues, what might have been perceived as a conflict has for the most part gone away...
"We see ourselves as very closely connected to ESRI and part of the effort of staying committed to one platform is a recognition of the loyalty that we have to ESRI.And recognizing what we provide as a value added is one that is appreciated by ESRI.It's seen as a mutually symbiotic relationship...My thought would be that if ESRI felt that they needed to move toward the direction of what we were doing, that they would look to incorporate us in someway."
Steven R.Lambert, Ph.D., Chief Technical Officer, James W.Sewall Company, Old Town, Maine
"ESRI's focus is on core software.That's the company focus and to the extent that they get involved in ancillary activities in some cases is unavoidable.Sometimes the clients ask things that ESRI has to respond to.But they are not actively out there.We've never had problems getting answers to questions either from the regional office or the Redlands office--ever..."
"We are a service company, and if anyone was sensitive to whether we felt that ESRI was encroaching on our turf, it would be us.We don't have the perception that was alluded to in the question.In fact, ESRI has bent over backwards in cases where our clients have specifically asked us to work with ESRI.We work with the industry managers, the development team, and the business partner coordinators to the extent that we rely on ESRI's support to help us get our clients the best solutions.They've always come through.They've expanded their offerings of software, data, and Web services only to be able to provide us with the kind of service we need.We don't see it as competition.If we don't see that as an opportunity to work with ESRI to better our services and their software sales, then that's our fault.It's a resource that's available and freely offered, and if you don't take advantage of it, it's your problem."
Pablo Munzon, GIS Planning
"Our service is about providing an economic solution over the Web.So he's right that things have changed and now there are different needs.But as a small business we have changed, too.And we've worked with ESRI to make that change...Conflicts have happened but we were able to resolve them... "If ESRI were to develop the same type of service, then they would kill us for sure.But they are not doing that.They are supporting us and in our case ESRI is helping us in our market.We are satisfied with the relationship...We get benefit from ESRI, but ESRI also gets benefit from us."
Jeff Meyers, President, Miner and Miner
"This question is an interesting one and one that I think is on the mark with respect to most of the market segments and most of the major software providers and their business partners.Our business is a little bit out of phase with that for a couple of reasons.One is the duration of our partnership--16 yrs.The other is the niche of our market, which is energy utilities.We are a closer part of the core delivery.We make ArcFM, a product that enhances the ArcGIS solution and is pretty much treated like a pseudo-ESRI product.
"I believe that ESRI has done a better job of managing its business partner relationships and not squeezing their business partners than some of the others.My belief is that the nature of competition in the energy utility segment is going to come down for the next few years very clearly to a monolithic, big provider offering all the implementation services and all the software, and they will compete with a best of breed kind of approach where you have a core technology provider like ESRI, an application provider like Miner and Miner, a work management or customer assistance provider, and a system integrator.Together, this best of breed will compete against the big monolith.From the energy utility perspective, it's vitally important that ESRI and Miner and Miner be able to maintain solid business partners in the integrator community and for implementation services.If we don't that best of breed story can become unwound fairly quickly."
Tom Counts, President, Mesa Solutions, Huntsville, Alabama
"ESRI does and will do services but they do services when the customer requires it.ESRI has no desire to compete with any of us in the services market.Our best advertising marketing partner is ESRI and when you can say that you absolutely have confidence in your partner.I've worked with all of the companies and they don't have the same proactive, helpful, supportive programs you see at ESRI.
"ESRI is a different type of organization that's based on relationships and communication, and if you take that for granted and think they are just any other cold-hearted business company you're going to screw up and not maintain those relationships and communication.You could get left out, but that's your own fault for not understanding how ESRI works.ESRI truly is not a button-down Brooks Brothers terms and conditions type company.They're a Lands End and a handshake.I trust ESRI.You can sit down at a table and work things out.You don't have to worry about some hidden agenda or how it's going to be handled.It's taken care of...When they say they are going to work on something you can trust them.It's not a slam against the others, but with them you need your terms and conditions.They are worried about when they fail.But ESRI doesn't because they know they're not going to fail.When I do business with ESRI, it's trust.What better thing can you say about a company than, 'I trust them.'...
"Their job is to sell software and gain market share with the ArcGIS suite of tools.But they have to have services there because sometimes customers require it, and sometimes it can be such a complex GIS solution, there's nobody else in the world that can do it but ESRI."
Chris Vanderheyden, Vice president Sales, and Business Partnerships, Smart Data Strategies, Green Bay, Wisconsin
"What we're trying to do is increase our cooperation with ESRI and our line of communication.It has to work both ways.What I've seen is that business partners tend to expect ESRI to call them and to bring them the leads and expect things to go just one way.But in reality it's got to be symbiotic.We need to call ESRI, keep in touch with them, and let them know what we're up to.At our regional lunch today that was the biggest topic-how can ESRI and BP open up the lines of communications so we don't compete? That we also don't compete with other business partners, but rather team up with them to make sure the ESRI tools are in there so we can go in there an beat the other big guys.You combine strengths to make sure that the best tools are implemented in that project...
"It's not keeping us from doing business or forcing us to look elsewhere, but it is a concern, and we look at it as part our fault, too.They're not doing this on purpose.They want to help us.It's a lack of communication in a very fast industry with so many players.They just have to position themselves with the right players.Some times we're not the right players.Sometimes we are...
I believe there is no intent on squeezing out business partners, there's no malice.Everybody is just trying to keep up with the wave in this industry...The reality is that we're not the only company who does what we do."
Brian Haslan, Azteca Systems, President, Salt Lake City
"We are the creators of Cityworks, a public works and public utilities asset/work order management system, and we have business partners, too.We are much like ESRI, in that there are times when we feel that it's necessary to do the implementation so that we can have good hands-on experience.We choose those clients carefully usually because of some strategic value.We see an opportunity to improve our product or grow the product...It's always to gain that core competency ourselves so that we can make sure that our software behaves the way we want it to or that it works the way it was intended to work.
"The knowledge that we gather from this is then disseminated to our business partners so that they can then be successful in a similar environment.I see ESRI behaving much the same way.ESRI has strategic accounts where they want to use those accounts to test their new technology or extend some existing technology or just gain a better understanding of how their technology is being used so that they can improve it or create new opportunities, new applications, or new solutions.ESRI needs that hands-on experience, too.
By doing this business partners can have a more successful experience with their clients and I see that as ESRI's role.I don't accept at all that there is this conflict that ESRI is somehow cheating out their business partners of something that is their due.I recognize from my own experience that at times we need to implement our system to ensure that it continues to be an excellent system and also to guide our own R and D efforts.I totally disagree with that perspective.I think that comes from a service company that only does services and has never been a product development company...
"We've tried to model ourselves after ESRI's approach to its business partners.We've run up against these same criticisms and I think there are unfounded.There's no validity in it.People who make that criticism simply don't understand the nature of running a software company...It's crucial that your core people gain competency in how your product behaves and that only occurs by doing some of the implementation work yourself."