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Value-added relationships

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If you are a user of KM software, chances are that a third party implemented your system, not the software vendor. The probability increases if your company is small to midsize. The partner might be an IT consulting firm or systems integrator, or a value-added reseller (VAR) that is embedding the vendor's software in its own branded product. Understanding the dynamics of partner arrangements can shed light on the most efficient way to get from an initial business requirement to a completed implementation.

When the Lance Armstrong Foundation approached Athens Group to help manage the growing and diverse needs of its constituent base, business process management (BPM) was part of the solution. The sale of 55 million trademark yellow Livestrong wristbands provided new resources to advance the Foundation's mission of assisting cancer victims, but also presented many process and integration issues.

It was not the first time the Foundation had worked with the Athens Group. The IT consulting firm previously had helped the Foundation by developing its Livestrong education Web portal, which provides information and support to cancer survivors via a content management back end and personalized information delivery based on user attributes.

One of the options presented on the Lance Armstrong Foundation Web site is the ability to offer a donation online and receive one of the Livestrong bracelets. Those and other online services require extensive fulfillment activities, which are outsourced to a variety of vendors. Athens Group suggested TeamWorks from Lombardi to orchestrate exception handling and reconciliation processes for those transactions.

"The Foundation is using TeamWorks to ‘knit together' multiple vendors, inter-department processes and information systems," says Paul Patterson, managing partner of BPM solutions at Athens Group.

A Lombardi partner since 2004, Athens Group now focuses primarily on BPM solutions. "We recognized that BPM had a lot of promise for our clients," Patterson explains, "and we had previous work experience with Lombardi." Since then, the Athens Group has developed specialized expertise in several verticals, including retail and the oil and gas industry, but the company implements TeamWorks across a broad spectrum of customers.

The dynamics among the customer, integrator and vendor reflect a pattern that is typical of successful partnerships. Athens Group already had an existing relationship with the customer and knowledge about the vendor. Each organization was willing to invest time in developing not just the software solution but also the working relationship. Over time, other connections were established. For example, Athens Group began developing training curriculum for Lombardi, expanding its own understanding of TeamWorks.

Software vendors rely on partners to bring domain expertise into the development of a solution. "We have a horizontal platform," says Alan Godfrey, VP of business development at Lombardi, "so our partners are important to us." Leads that come in from trade shows may be referred to partners with particular expertise. When working with a systems integrator, the customer typically buys the license from the vendor and then obtains professional services from the integrator.

Customers who want access to a particular vendor's software have several other options, depending on their business needs. Some independent software vendors (ISVs) buy the software and then sell it as a module in their own suite, marketed under the original branding. Other ISVs embed the software in their own branded product. "We have a branch of our company that is dedicated to facilitating OEM applications," notes Godfrey.

Looking for trouble

MortgageRamp, owned by R.R. Donnelly, provides a wide variety of services to companies that issue mortgages, including streamlined application processes and a loan performing advisory service that predicts and monitors risk on loans. The purpose of the service is to help protect investors from losses and to improve cash flow. The advisory service is based on sophisticated business intelligence (BI) analytics supported by software from Business Objects. MortgageRamp selected Business Objects after evaluating a number of BI products.

"We carry out extensive analyses on mortgage-backed securities information at both the aggregate and individual loan level," says Craig Pell, manager of BI at MortgageRamp. "For example, we have a predictive system that allows us to accurately forecast loan performance, and we also compare our predictions to the actual outcomes."

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