Partnering Strategy
Min read

Ecosystem Cloud: The Next Frontier

Chip Rodgers

Today’s hyper-competitive market demands agile innovation and the ability to quickly form creative solutions to solve customer problems. No longer do businesses have the luxury of time when bringing new solutions to market. In fact, business leaders who are unable—or unwilling—to take risks and expand their market will put their business at risk of becoming obsolete.

Out of all the enterprises on the 1955 Fortune 500 list, only 53 U.S. companies remain in business today—that’s stunning. As digital transformation and hyper-competitiveness take over every market and sector, companies large and small are at risk of disruption and becoming obsolete if they aren’t agile and responsive to fast-changing customer needs.

ibm logo

A recent C-Suite Survey by IBM states that “leading organizations are innovating with partners on new business platforms across ecosystems” showing dramatic evidence that top-performing companies are twice as likely as poor-performing companies to leverage their ecosystem partners to quickly innovate and meet market demands.

Partners coming together to launch joint solutions into the market are able to quickly provide the technologies and solutions customers want. Companies that choose to “go it alone” can waste months or even years trying to assemble the teams and technology customers are looking for, while their competitors are already in the market and eating their lunch. Agile business leaders who have the tools to build and nurture business ecosystems benefit from strong networks and gain a crucial edge in leading their industries.

Gartner logo

A new Gartner study (below) shows that 79% of top-performing companies participate in digital ecosystems while, for the poorest performing companies, only 24% do. The message is clear — if you’re not creating or engaging with your ecosystem partners, you will underperform your peers and soon be left behind.

Gartner enterprise participation in digital ecosystems

The need for more agile ecosystems has created an urgent need for an entirely new way for companies to work with partners with speed, agility, and effectiveness.

WorkSpan was founded on the vision of solving exactly this problem for the industry. Over the last two years, as the WorkSpan customer base has grown so quickly and the market need has become acute, analysts and industry thought leaders are recognizing the sea change that’s happening as well as the massive opportunity available to those that embrace the new ecosystem model.

Just last month, for example, Gartner released its Market Guide for Partner Relationship Management Applications (PRM Market Guide). The Guide, of course, details the pros and cons of the traditional PRM vendors’ software — but then describes an entirely new category of ecosystem partnering solution that Gartner says will be a “game-changer.” WorkSpan is named as a leader in this new space:

“Partner ecosystem platforms are networks for organizations and their sales partners that support today’s needs for multi-partner business processes to drive revenue across all stakeholders.”

“Gartner anticipates that
disrupting the current [PRM] business models through building sales partner ecosystems will be a game-changer.”

PRM Market Guide, May 2019

The “Channel Partner” Model Is Being Disrupted By Ecosystems

Companies have been using traditional partner relationship management (PRM) systems for years to sell their solutions through their channel partners (“sell-through” model). But this model of partnership has been changing dramatically. As the move to cloud computing has accelerated, major software vendors are no longer “shipping boxes” of their own software through Distributors and Value-Added Resellers (VARs). These traditional channel partners supporting pure “sell-through” business models have been massively disrupted over the last 5 years — and will only see this trend continue.

So what partner models are taking over? Ecosystems.

ecosystem cloud

Accenture defines ecosystems as “a network of cross-industry players who work together to define, build and execute market-creating customer and consumer solutions. An ecosystem is defined by the depth and breadth of potential collaboration among a set of players: each can deliver a piece of the consumer solution, or contribute a necessary capability.” The massive trends including cloud computing, hyper-competitive markets, low switching costs, relatively easy plug-and-play technology integrations through public APIs have come together to demand companies be more nimble and work with a broader set of ecosystem partners to compete effectively in the market.

Indeed, partner ecosystems are now seen by CEOs as a strategic lever to grow their business. According to Accenture’s report Cornerstone of Future Growth: Ecosystems, 84% of all CEOs say that ecosystems are critical to their strategy of disruption in their markets and 63% of CEOs say that ecosystems provide their top opportunity for their ability to innovate.

“Ecosystems are proving to be winning plays. Enabled by digital platforms — ecosystems could unlock $100 trillion of value for business and wider society over the next 10 years. Waiting is not an option when so many disruptors are taking advantage of this stepping-stone to growth.”
Cornerstone of Future Growth: Ecosystems, 2018
Forrester Logo

Forrester predicts in What I See Coming in the Channel that “ecosystems replace traditional channel programs.” The report says this “new paradigm” requires companies to think about their partner relationships as an ecosystem, rather than a one-to-one relationship:

“Ecosystems Replace Traditional Channel Programs”

“Ecosystems will encourage partnering with other partners, as well as hyper-specialization among the millions of customer opportunities. Ecosystems will also be business-model-agnostic and allow partners to select and self-service their onboarding, incentives, certifications, co-selling, and co-marketing requirements.”

Forrester, 2019

The concept of ecosystems and their importance in the changing marketplace is raising important questions for business leaders and strategy experts about their role in businesses on a local and global scale, as demonstrated by the ever-expanding body of work on ecosystems that have emerged in just the last 18 months.

Major industry analysts and research organizations have all been writing extensively about the ecosystem phenomenon including Gartner, IBM, Accenture, IDC, Forrester, MIT Sloane, BCG, EY, Constellation, and others. This all points to the plain fact that participating in partner ecosystems are critical for success in today’s rapidly transforming digital economy.

11th Peter Drucker Forum

The latest example of the power of the ecosystem trend: the 2019 Global Peter Drucker Forum that will be held in November this year in Vienna is titled “The Power of Ecosystems — Managing in a Networked World”.

As EY CEO Marcel Stalder says,

The future is ecosystems.

There’s Been No System To Manage Partner Ecosystems

While this massive disruption is taking place and ecosystems are on the rise, the ecosystem partnering model has lacked a solution designed with these new partner motions in mind. Companies have been resorting to ill-suited PRM systems or using spreadsheets requiring excessive amounts of time and effort for manual updates and data reconciliation between partners.

PRM systems were never designed to manage partner-to-partner ecosystems. PRMs were designed as hub-and-spoke islands with a master partner dominating subservient partners. That’s not how partner ecosystems work. If you tried to manage an ecosystem of partners with PRM islands, each company would need to log into multiple PRM system separately to try and work with every partner — and still, no one would know what the other partners are doing. The table below illustrates additional challenges with traditional PRM systems.

There’s honestly no way to fix current PRM solutions to have them support an ecosystem model. It’s just not possible. The only solution is to entirely re-think the partnering model and build a solution from the ground up with an architecture that allows ecosystem partners to engage as peers on a network.

That’s What WorkSpan Has Done With Ecosystem Cloud.

Ecosystem Cloud is the place where all partners can engage equally through a single, secure, cloud-based network to accelerate time to market and grow their business together.

Key differences between PRM solutions and Ecosystem Cloud

Partner Ecosystem Platforms Will Be “A Game Changer,” Says Gartner

Ecosystem Cloud rethinks the way partners go to market together, allowing for cross-company collaboration with multiple partners in peer relationships, so that each partner can fully leverage their own unique capabilities, solutions, and expertise at the right time for their joint customers.

Ecosystem Cloud enables a collaborative environment in which companies work with partners as peers to create seamless joint solutions, bring those solutions to market, and engage easily on joint sell-with motions to drive revenue together. As Gartner says in the current PRM Market Guide:

Gartner Anticipates That Disrupting The Current [PRM] Business Models Through Building Sales Partner Ecosystems Will Be A Game-Changer.
Gartner, PRM Market Guide, May 2019

This is, to put it simply, revolutionary. Companies can fully and quickly leverage the most innovative capabilities and services of many different partners to create solutions that build market dominance.

Gartner’s addition of a new partner ecosystem platform category in the PRM Market Guide this year signals a major shift in how organizations view and manage their partner relationships. Rather than relying on one-to-one exchanges, chasing down updates, or correcting outdated information often found in PRM systems, ecosystem cloud platforms offer a single source of truth for all partners to engage with each other on a powerful cross-company network to optimize their joint go-to-market solutions.

In their report, Gartner outlines the key benefits of partner ecosystem cloud platforms. These include the ability to create networks across company boundaries, control and automate the exchange of data, and expand access to a wider, more collaborative network of partners.

Why Choose Ecosystem Cloud?

At WorkSpan, we’re at the forefront of innovation in the partner ecosystem space. Ecosystem Cloud is designed to give business leaders the power to capitalize on their ecosystems, break down barriers, and drive their businesses forward.

This innovation is why, in addition to calling out the new category of Partner Ecosystem Platforms in the PRM Market Guide, Gartner also recognized WorkSpan in the 2019 Gartner Cool Vendors in Channel and Sales Enablement, stating:

“When the functionality is applied to partner ecosystems, it solves a management problem that has been top of mind for many technology and service providers that have started forming ecosystems with partners.

This is what sets WorkSpan apart from traditional partner relationship management systems.”

- Gartner, Cool Vendor for Channel and Sales Enablement, May 2019

There are many hurdles inherent in managing cross-company business processes, collaboration deep into partner organizations, and productive go-to-market activities. Companies that have been at the forefront of trying to launch and grow an ecosystem strategy to be more competitive in the market have, with traditional PRM or spreadsheet systems, lacked the ability to make it happen.

Ecosystem Cloud is the first and only solution to leverage the power of a network of partners to deliver a unique competitive advantage by accelerating your ecosystem strategy to win in the market.

If this blog has piqued your interest and you’d like to learn more, please reach out to me at

Chief Partner Officer

About Chip Rodgers

Chip is passionate about building strong communities and ecosystems around enterprises to build excitement for the category, deliver value for customers, and grow the business. Prior to WorkSpan, Chip was with SAP for over 13 years, most recently growing the SAP Community Network to over 2 million engaged customers, partners, and developers. He has an MBA from the University of Chicago and an engineering degree from Northwestern.

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