Friday 9 April 2010

Vendor Partner Programmes - use or useless?

Most of you will know that many topics can make me a tad irritated, however a reoccurring one that never fails to wind me up is the topic of "parter accreditation" programmes.

You know, the ones where ISV XYZ says they are a 'gold partner' of technology supplier ABC and all the world is going to be hunky dory. Of course this applies equally to SIs, ISVs & OEMs.

This irritates me for a number of reasons :-

1) Mainly because it's never 'hunky dory' and given the devil is in the details, all these partner schemes do is set certain expectation levels in top management's minds that can never be achieved. Indeed if it was all so 'hunky dory' why the heck do so many SI managers drive around in expensive cars paid for through 'change control additions'???

2) Often the one 'partner' insists on the use of another partner, either in the form of a direct statement, or simply through the use of limited partners on the support & interop list. Of course it most certainly would be interesting to better understand any financial relationships or transactions between these partners ('finders fees' anyone?)

3) However the main issue I have with these schemes is that 90% of the time they are little more than joint marketing and sales programmes, which whilst sounding nice in reality they do nothing to actually help the customer. Once in, their accreditation schemes are often so light & flexible its daft, and this leads to lazy practices - which may in fact be negative for the customer.

But the real point of this note was to call out one specific area that vendors really could use these programmes for some positive value, namely tacking the issue of "supported versions". What I mean by this is that far too often, companies that have these schemes ignore a key issue - which is that they allow 'accredited partners' to either require the use of older technology versions or that they allow partners to support subsets of the products.

A couple of examples of this are :-

a) Cisco SAN switch interop programme for SAN-OS/NX-OS - where Cisco allow their partners to certify & support against a specific minor version of the code that is effectively unique to the partner. Thus making it more than tricky to get a solution between server, HBA, OS, disc array, tape library etc that actually matches all of the partner's specific certification requirements.

b) Oracle partners & out date/support software - where Oracle allow their certified partners to 'only support' aged versions of the database products. In the last month alone I've had one major billing partner & one major ISV both say that they currently only support Oracle DB 10.2.x and it will be mid-next year before they have anything that supports 11.x! Remember that 10.2 ends premier support July 2010, and 11.1 was released in Aug 2007!!!  (see here for details on Oracle support versions & dates)

So what do I want done about this? Frankly a simple starting point would be for these three items to added into the conditions of a partner scheme :-

1) If you offer a partner accreditation programme then mandate that members of the programme support the current version of technology within 90 days if it's GA release (after all they will have had plenty of notice & beta access as part of the programme) - this must also include providing upgrade routes

2) Partners are only permitted to do new deployment installs using non-current versions for up to 1yr of GA of the current version (and even then only n-1 release version)- thus allowing 'in-flight' projects to complete but preventing partners from proliferating aged technology deployments

3) If you allow partners to initially certeify against specific minor release sub-set versions, then require them to support the full major release version within 6 months of initial release (eg a 'terminal release' variant) - thus ensuring that the eco-system will converge on a common supported version within a period of time

Naturally companies that are not part of these partner programmes could carry on causing issues, but what this would mean is that those genuinely in such partner schemes would actually be helping their customer and have real differentiating benefits to offer.

Of course this would actually require companies to actively manage their partner programmes, and of course to remove those partners that don't adhere to the rules - something I doubt will ever actually happen. But you've gotta have a dream haven't you? :)

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