The digital age has ushered in a shift in the way that we conceptualize business, from advertising to customer service to accounting. But one of the sneakier changes has been what happens behind the scenes with business innovation.
The speed at which technology is changing, and the expertise required to keep up with technological fields — from cloud computing to AI — is so great that businesses largely can’t push out big innovations on their own. The traditional models for innovation and competition that relied on building out in-house capabilities no longer apply.
But innovation for businesses of all sizes can and is thriving through a partnership model. Rather than scrambling to keep up with changes and draining company resources on technology that isn’t at the core of a product, companies today are forging relationships that breed innovation.
Partnerships that pair specialized tech expertise with a vision for the development of a product are powerful. The back-end processes that companies can’t develop in-house get focused attention, and the possibilities of their application are opened up by companies that have a unique understanding of how to build out consumer products.
Apple + SAP
Everyone knows Apple, which means everyone knows they aren’t popular because of their crazy software innovation. Yes, they deal with OS for their devices, and a limited number of software applications in coordination with that. But they never pushed for dominance over applications, even preloaded ones like word processors.
SAP, meanwhile, is all about software — specifically, enterprise software. SAP has a huge capacity for development on the enterprise level and has made no moves to get into hardware.
So when they announced a partnership in 2016, things immediately clicked. Apple wanted to make their ecosystem more enterprise-friendly, and SAP wanted to have a bigger platform for the development of enterprise apps. So why not combine their specialties and let SAP’s technology be easily utilized in Apple’s ecosystem?
Now, developers for iOS have access to SAP’s technology and can easily develop products for iOS using SAP systems. Take Swiss Post’s real estate division, which built a custom travel-expense app for iOS, powered by SAP technology. It was a bespoke solution that instantly fit with Swiss Post’s current hardware and allowed them to access SAP’s technology for their new app. This was a success because Apple and SAP made it so easy to combine their services through Apple’s platform.
Rick Knowles, senior vice president and general manager of the Apple partnership at SAP, said that the Apple + SAP partnership is a move that dramatically expands app possibilities for the enterprise and would not be possible without a collaboration between the two companies.
“It’s a partnership of an actual deliverable that’s going to impact our customers and our partners that are going to be leveraging this going forward.”
IBM + VMware
When you’re working on the enterprise scale, there’s no room for error. That’s why IBM and VMware have had a long-standing partnership to improve enterprise application, especially in cloud services, mobility, and data. Of the partnership, Don Fitzpatrick, general manager, global networking alliances at IBM, said, “This is a very important partnership for the IBM corporation. We integrate technologies, we go to market together, and we innovate together.”
Both IBM and VMware are big companies with big offerings, but even they can’t sustainably develop every piece of tech needed to provide a comprehensive suite of solutions for their customers. But by forging a long-term, strategic relationship, they can push ahead in their respective fields without giving up utility for customers: Where one innovates, the other keeps pace to present fully realized solutions.
Although they have had many iterations of this success, one recent example is their cloud partnership, which brought IBM’s scaled cloud-services abilities to VMware’s on-site offerings, allowing their customers to retain their framework and security from VMware while adding a cloud component.
This means that customers can keep their on-prem solutions while automatically adding a compatible cloud component — something that has been slow to come to the enterprise. But VMware doesn’t have to develop enterprise cloud services, and IBM gets a foot in the door to accelerate enterprise’s notoriously slow adoption of cloud services.
Companies the size of VMware and IBM have the ability to acquire companies, hire staff, and build out new tech beyond what most businesses can. But even they can’t build everything their customers need to use their tech to the fullest extent. This is a great example of the value of combining back-end specialties to create partnerships that push innovation on the front end.
Syte + Screenshop
We’ve covered some giants, but what about companies that aren’t looking for enterprise-level applications? What about consumer-facing apps?
Partnerships work just as well there as they do on the scale of IBM — if not better. For a small company or a startup, developing the necessary tech to make a new idea or feature happen can be beyond the resources available. Outsourcing that technology to a partner who can provide the base function they need and work with them for custom applications is critical for bringing products to life.
A great example of this is Syte’s partnership with Screenshop. Syte provides image-recognition capabilities that allow users to find clothing and accessories from any screenshot or photo on their mobile device. Screenshop fits an ecommerce platform on top of this to present options for shoppers in any price range and has a UX that’s easy, intuitive, and pleasing to shoppers.
Developing this image tech is a full-time job for any company, as is running an entire ecommerce business. Syte isn’t prepared to build an entire customer-facing app — we’re busy with image AI! And the Screenshop team wouldn’t be able to get image-recognition AI up and running in time to get their app onto the market early; they’re busy building a whole business in and of itself.
The Syte + Screenshop partnership brings the best of both worlds together: Screenshop handles the commercial side of the product, including inventory, UX, payment processing, etc., and Syte works with Screenshop to build the best mobile application of image recognition possible.
Two is better than one
Technology, computing, software — in today’s world, it is simply too complicated, too costly, and too time-consuming to control every part of your company’s process. This could stall innovation and keep companies from pushing out products that cater to today’s and tomorrow’s customers.
But instead, it’s opened up a whole new model of innovation. Companies working in partnerships can push the envelope on technologies that are in their respective wheelhouses. Working together while retaining the autonomy to specialize in their own products, companies in partnerships truly do get the best of both worlds.