Technology associations based on standards efforts share many common goals and challenges. Over the years, through the shared experiences of literally hundreds of such efforts, a set of best practices has emerged, including strategies on:
- How best to set up a new association
- What an effective organizational structure looks like
- What programs and practices make sense as the organization moves from conception through launch, growth and ultimately through maturity and end of life
While organizational goals may differ, most new initiatives focus on developing a set of standards and associated specifications around a new or “improved” technology, promoting those standards in the industry to accelerate adoption, and ensuring the right marketing and communications programs are in place to keep a solid drumbeat of messaging to both members and the marketplace.
But what if the problem you’re trying to solve is a little different? What if the burning issue that brings a set of founders together is more about overcoming a negative market perception and less about the technology itself? This sort of situation requires alliance leadership and board members to think creatively, be willing to take chances, try something new and above all stay focused on the problem.
I was at a large technology company in the mid 2000s, responsible for accelerating the adoption of a new server platform that was taking a real battering in the press at the time. This server platform was roundly criticized for not having key applications and development tools ported to the platform. Fear, uncertainty and doubt abounded concerning “investment level” and “long term commitment” to the technology, etc. Competitors were having a field day. The challenges were great and the time-frame short.
The platform provider and its OEMs decided it was time to go on the offensive, and that the best way forward was to form an industry alliance consisting of both hardware manufacturers and key software developers who had invested in the platform. The Board took a hard look at each of the key issues and developed an action plan:
1. The Technical Working Group was tasked with ensuring that key applications and completers were identified and ported. A hot list was developed and a cross vendor recruiting plan initiated.
- The Alliance sponsored multiple Porting Workshops and Developer Days in multiple geographies, where developers could do actual work with access to support resources on site.
- Porting Centers were established in key geographies, hosted by various Alliance members.
- The Alliance funded a pool of loaner systems that developers could access.
- The organization maintained a global application database showing the status of applications running on the platform, which was fed by both the Alliance and individual member companies as work was completed. End users were encouraged to nominate critical applications for porting consideration.
- There were several large ISVs who refused to port unless they received significant funding. The funding request was too large for any of the individual OEMs to commit to on their own. The Alliance served as the intermediary between the OEMs and the ISVs and coordinated a “shared investment model” that ultimately led to the applications’ availability.
2. The Marketing Working Group was tasked with working on the perception issue.
- To counteract the claim of lack of commitment, the Alliance organized a Tier One press event, where senior management from Alliance Founding members announced a commitment to invest $10B in the platform over a 3 year timeframe.
- Numerous white papers were commissione that focused on the benefits of the platform in real life computing environments. Work was done by leading IT analysts to ensure credibility.
- Goals were established at the Alliance level to measure changes in perception. Our Marketing Communications vendor was tasked with ensuring that X number of Alliance-written articles were placed in the media and they were directly measured on whether the tone was positive, neutral or negative. What began as a slew of negative articles gradually shifted to a more balanced picture, with the majority of articles in the press characterized as neutral to positive.
- The Alliance sponsored semi-annual press tours; the messages and customer success stories were taken right to the writers and analysts who were most negative. The Alliance challenged the writers to look at the facts and report a more accurate picture. In general, faced with actual facts and figures, the level of negativity decreased significantly.
- One of the most interesting programs, which yielded multiple benefits, was the creation of an awards program that recognized exceptional use of systems based on the underlying technology to solve real world business issues for both large and small companies and issued an annual cash award for the best use of the technology for humanitarian purposes. The contest ran over 4 years and attracted a significant number of credible entries from companies and educational institutions on a global basis. Each of the winning submissions (and certain honorable mentions) became the basis for a new batch of success stories that were promoted out to their individual countries/geographies. Winners were brought together on an annual basis to accept their awards and be available for press interviews, etc.
The problems faced by this technology association were numerous and challenging. The benefits of using an association format as the basis by which competitors and others in the ecosystem could successfully collaborate were substantial.
Industry alliances have proved excellent vehicles to accomplish a wide variety of objectives. And while no two situations are alike, the reality is that we’ve found that every one of our clients came into being through unique circumstances. Among the dozens of organizations we’ve helped start are a number that have addressed industry voids, brought fierce competitors to the table, and helped create new categories of technology.
At Virtual, we welcome the opportunity to share our experiences, and we can help guide the creation of a new organization or help get an existing group back on track. We have a tremendous variety of experience. Besides individuals who have worked extensively with consortia and alliances in an advisory capacity, we have folks who have been on the client side as senior executives, officers or Board members who understand what’s at stake, as well as the value of having a partner who can think outside the box and propose creative solutions for a variety of organizational challenges.