This posting is part of the partners@work series.
Whether you are a producer of high tech equipment or a service provider offering business advice, whatever you line of business, you will always strive to make your products and services better.Every company learns, researches and discovers. Per definition research costs money, a lot of money. And money is a good motivator to seek out other organization that have the same problems.
In general there are three ways of working with partners to share costs for research and development: sharing ideas, working on a common standard and joint product development.
Remember the story of the three blind people who touch an elephant? The first feels a tree, the second a hose and the third feels a wall. Only by communicating, they can fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Only by talking to others in the field you can gain a better understanding of the market place. Round table meetings and mini-conferences are great methods of getting the ideas flowing. Join existing expert groups. Or even better: start your own! In this way you, as the organizer, can direct the meeting to fit in with your goals. You, as the sponsor, will be seen as the thought leader. If you feel that a strong association with your company is not appropriate, then there is always the option of giving the group a it’s own generic name. When choosing this option, do stay in control and make sure you have the official status of lead sponsor.
Working on a common standard
Not many companies in the world have the luxury of being able to prescribe a new standard. Setting standards requires a lot of work. Developing, proposing and realizing standards needs the cooperation of many individuals and organizations. Working with partners is not optional, is not something you could consider: it is a must.
If standards are so hard to establish, why would you want to put in all the effort? Standards make life in general easier in a number of ways. The most important reason is that a standard is common language, an agreement on how stuff is done. It allows multiple parties to work together relatively independently. They work completely separately as long as they adhere to the standard that was set.
For any giving problem only one or a small number of standards will survive. Other standard ways of solving the problem, which seemed like a good idea at the time, will simply die. Your organization will only survive if your offering is build on top of the surviving standard. You better pick the right one. This means you can look for the dominant standard in the market and stick to that. Make sure your offering is fully compliant and tap into the existing market place with like minded clients. The other option, more riskier one, is to set your own standard. This option is obviously only possible in emerging technologies (the internet is a good example). Again it may be a good idea to develop the standard under it’s own name instead of your organization’s name. When you are setting the standard, you have to create a community – and later a market place – that is willing to accept you and adopt your standard. Your attitude needs to be very black and white: people are with you or against you; they are your partner or your enemy. If your standard gets adopted naturally the market will gravitate towards your products and services.
Joint product development
Finally partners can help to complete your product offering. If your product is good, but it could be even better, then it may be wise to work with partners who have the missing pieces. I am not saying that you have done a bad job developing your product; what I am saying that with a little rework you can integrate someone else’s technology or ideas in your product and open up a complete new marketplace. The concept described here goes further than two product that complement each other. When working together in research and development it means that your product and your partners product arc truly integrated. To your clients they work as though it is one product. Perhaps even marketed under a separate name.