iBeeConsulting help launch a new B2B Partner Portal as  a  key Partner Relationship platform

Overview:

Accessible over the internet, the client had a requirement to provide a centralised portal to allow them to engage with their Channel Partners across the developing markets (150 countries).

A platform that would replace an existing portal to help facilitate the growth of their Channel network.

To move from adhoc, fragmented local engagement and communication model to a structure and consistent model.  

The challenge:

With 80% of their technology sales concluded by their Channel partners, engagement to their existing network and growth of their Channel partners was critical to their business strategy.

Their existing Partner portal had approx. 25000 registered users with little or no investment and was based on old outdated technology.

The client had reached a point where they needed to make the decision to either invest a significant amount in upgrading the existing Portal, or start from scratch and develop a new Portal.

The requirement was to review and determine the best way forward for them to enable their business strategy and to have a platform which enabled Partner Relationship Management (PRM).

The approach:

An end to end review of their existing platform.

Technology:

Predominantly based on an outdated technology (Oracle’s Portal platform).  The software was very much out of date and expensive to run.

It also did not comply with the central IT technology standards.  The client had made a significant investment in Microsofts SharePoint 2010 platform.

We spoke with all the relevant teams to determine the status technically and the effort to upgrade the existing portal to make it fully supportable.

Capability:

After a personal review and discussion with many of the end users, it was clear that the functionality of the existing platform was ad hoc, weak and the end user experience was fragmented.

Multiple useful functions “joined” together, in an unstructured manner.

Many functions managed by multiple providers either internally or by 3rd party vendors.  

The impact of this was that the Channel partners were not using the portal and going to direct contacts within the clients business for their information.

Commercials:

Base platform:

The existing portal was based on Oracles Portal platform.  An old version which was running out of technical support by the vendor.

The cost of the licences for the base platform was significant.

Additional functions:

Some functions were “joined” together and hosted by 3rd party vendors.  Upon a review it was clear that contracts and agreements had not be maintained on a regular basis.  The client was paying to much to suppliers for the work that was being completed

Options:

1) Do nothing:

Leave the existing platform as is.  Limited functionality in an “online” world, with expensive maintenance and service contracts

2) Upgrade the existing:

Upgrade the base platform to the latest version and renegotiate service contracts

3) Build a new portal:

Conform to the central IT’s standards and provide new functionality and platform as a true PRM platform.  Utilising Web 2.0 technology.

Recommendation: Option 3 - build a new portal. 

To do nothing was not an option.  The clients competitors were providing portals and ahead of the game.  To grow channel market, the right tools had to be in place.

To upgrade the existing platform, it was going to cost in the region of $500k-$600k.  That would only upgrade the existing platform technically and make it IT security compliant.  No additional functionality would be provided within that cost

For approximately the same money as option 2, a new portal could be built.  This would allow the client to have a marketing and communications tool, whilst still providing access to other tools and services within their infrastructure.  It allowed the client to have the base platform for a true PRM solution.


The solution:

To build a new portal in SharePoint 2010.  Ensure the platform complied to the corporate IT standards, whilst ensuring the support contracts were in place which were relevant and cost optimised.

Provide a platform in local languages, to which the content could be controlled and managed locally.  This resulted in 18 different portals, in 10 different languages all using the same base infrastructure and application.

Engagement with the right technologists:

Throughout the review, it was clear that most of the decision for the existing platform had been taken by the business, with very little input from IT.  The business contacts were not IT savvy, and whilst functionally requirements were dictated, from a technology perspective, little thought had gone into the platform.  This had impact when it came to budget rounds.  The corporate IT department believed the business unit was “renegaded”, therefore limited the central investment to the business.

We re-engaged with the right people from within the corporate IT department, whom most of them were based in the USA, so multiple timezones for management of the engagement.  Ensured the right IT coherence approvals were granted and to ensure the business unit was viewed as “on board” from within the management teams in IT.

Design, build, test and operate:

To complete the design, build, test and operate of the platform, it was recommended that the project should go out to RFI and RFP to meet potential suppliers for the job.

The team went out to 6 or 7 suppliers, some who were already on the preferred IT suppliers list.

From the process, a new supplier was brought on board for the project.  The supplier also sub-contracted the design element to a digital marketing company based in central London.  The new supplier offered an enhanced and cheaper cost from the preferred supplier list.  It allowed the norm to be challenged.

For the design

we interviewed approx. 40+ people.  Internal and external users, based across 5 or 6 timezones, via video and / or audio conferencing.  After the interviews, the design was initiated.  Some of the interviewees were very clear on what they wanted, whilst others we advised and led the discussions.

For the build

working with corporate IT, a platform was designed and built.  Before it was built though, the functional design had to be closed off.  Many hours / days locked in a room coming up with the right functional design.  Looking at best practices from many other leading social media solutions, and applying them to meet the business requirements from the interviews.

For the testing

we engaged with in country users, with at times asking the external clients to test / pilot the portal

For the operate

we piloted in a few countries first.  Fixed any teething problems, then rolled out the portal, country by country.

Lessons learnt:

A very exciting project.  But with all projects you learn from them.  A few examples on this project were:

Buy in from corporate IT : We had to get this.  The investment $$ came from them.  Split across multiple timezones and politics at play, it was critical to have the right people on the ground support this project.  Alot of engagement and senior influencing was spent on this task

Multiple timezones and cultures: Different times, different cultures.  This brought a very special dynamic to the design phase of the project.  There was not enough budget to visit the key countries, so everything was done remotely.  The project team had to be very flexible and pragmatic in interviewing everyone.  Understand their pressures, their environment and their cultures.

Maturity of developing markets: Engaging with staff who are seen as local “experts” on marketing and / or technology.  The project found that their mature was low.  Often we were guiding them on what is normal practice.  That is ok, but the lesson learnt is to be open minded when completing such analysis.  

Always having the long term view in mind:  The first phase of the project was to delivery a new platform, with better collaboration, communication and marketing tools.  That was achieved, but as the site(s) rolled out, the countries wanted new additional functionality.  An approach would be to simply say yes, but a proper PRM strategy was needed.

PRM strategy: Another time another story....

If you would like to know more about this whitepaper, please do get in touch at info@ibeeconsulting.com

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