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Tom Adelstein -- Linux Consulting: Alliances, Networking and the Guerilla

Aug 09, 1999, 01:32 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tom Adelstein)

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By Tom Adelstein of Bynari, Inc.

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies - Sun Tzu

Main Entry: syn·er·gism
Pronunciation: 'si-n&r-"ji-z&m
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin synergismus, from Greek synergos
Date: 1910
: interaction of discrete agencies (as industrial firms), agents (as drugs), or conditions such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects

Consultancies thrive on alliances. The best consultancies provide teams of professionals to manage their alliances and make them work. Where would companies like SAP be without their alliances?

Some of us can define the theory behind business alliances mathematically as Einstein did with physics. For example, the axiom of an alliance steps out of a Newtonian world into one where simple math fails. When, one plus one equals three. This notion involves entities instead of things. In this context three entities exist in an alliance which includes you and your partner and then a third entity called us or we.

Sun Micro Systems has a high quality alliance management group. I discovered how they worked on an assignment with one of the global consultancies. At that time, our team needed a Sun Ultra Sparc server for a project. Coincidentally, the Dallas office of Sun Micro Systems shared a floor in our building with us. Not knowing better, I wandered into the waiting room and began asking for a sales person. Within a few minutes I had an 800 telephone number and person to call. That group lived in the Boston area.

Once I contacted the gentleman assigned to our Company, I discovered an incredible resource. Call him Jason for now. He made miracles occur.

First, he got me a special development computer under very favorable terms. He then demonstrated more knowledge of our company than anyone I could find in our own management. He knew the names of people already working on projects such as mine. He knew who in the Company excelled and who failed in almost every initiative. He gave me names and telephone numbers of people to call within my own Company as resources to further our project. I couldn't get that kind of information from anyone in our own Company.

Jason saved the best for last. Within fifteen minutes he knew my strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths he discovered included my experience in retail and e-commerce. While on the first call, Jason conferenced me into a product manager in Menlo Park looking for a global consulting firm to act as an integrator for a new product Sun launched.

I went to Menlo Park, met the gentleman, his boss and the Vice President of the division. A week later, I provided them with a written plan and they accepted the proposal and appointed us as their first global integrator. Next, they introduced us to their third party software vendor and arranged for us to begin a project with one of their "high visibility" customers. Without question Jason arranged one of the biggest wins our Company had that year.

Alliances Within the Linux Community
One criticism I have of the Linux business community revolves around how they manage their alliances or how they ignore them. I would name this song the "valley of lost opportunity". Linux businesses need to take a lesson from Oracle, Microsoft and SAP. Another lesson they might take would come from the Linux development community on how to create a miracle by working together.

Like a poorly run company, the Linux business community takes the worker for granted. In poorly run companies you will find leadership exists on the factory floor not in management. The informal communication network or the grapevine manages the dissemination of information while management rides on the back of the worker.

The major distributions want to build channels. I consider this a sign of inexperience and the lack of business acumen. The predominate attitude displayed by them is something like "you know me so you owe me". The other attitude revolves around the notion that they already have all the answers and time is all that they need to succeed.

Outside of the Linux business community we can see the mistakes and successes others have made. They serve as guides. Someone said that he who does not learn from history is destined to repeat it.

Take Compaq's strategy as a good example of a bad notion. Management of Compaq built a sales channel through distributors and so called partners. They practically invented the notion of "the server" in the Wintel world. The sales channel represents something they use to sell product.

Compaq's latest moves allow us to see their dominate response patterns and their value system. Eaten up with envy, Compaq tries to copy Dell and Gateway. They want to sell their computers direct. Compaq doesn't operate like Gateway or Dell and if they ever catch on they have too much bulk to maneuver.

Gateway considers its customers as strategic partners. They make money and continue to grow because they embrace their customer as a part of the whole. At Gateway, they only exist for the customer. They know it, talk it and walk it. Management maintains a strategic alliance with their workers, also. That strategic alliance empowers their value system to permeate the company and seep out to the customer. Call this management by inclusion. Also, you might notice that Gateway offers lifetime support to their customers.

You can not imitate sincerity. People whose only motivation involves money believe that the only way to succeed is to use money as the temptress. If we make it cheap enough "they will come" is the mantra of such people. Such a mantra will bring the worst customers a company could want. They can have the business they pursue. Let them all haggle over pennies.

The Test of Linux in Business
Success will reveal the pretenders. Many companies have gone public, raised ten of millions of dollars and failed. Such organizations are clichés.

Other companies have refused the popular strategy of Wall Street and demonstrated success anyway. Afterward, they offered to share their success with the financial community by becoming a public company. We will see.

What This Means for the Linux Consultant
The Linux consultant has a tight rope in front of him or her. I want the kind of alliance Sun Micro System offers but I want it in a Linux company. Don't you?

I want to feel like a part of the whole like a hologram. When holograms shatter, you can still see the whole image in the broken parts. People who observed this have said that the whole is in the parts of the parts make up the whole.

In the event we don't have such a company in the Linux business community, the next best thing is networking. We already network but in a loose manner. We don't see much networking within the consulting area.

The components for successful networking include a central information center, a base of human resources spread out in a geographical area and a fair sharing arrangement. When those components exist then the channel becomes the network and vice versa.

Daisytek represents a good example of this rationale. Daisytek sells computer supplies such as paper, ink cartridges, tape, and so on. Daisytek began its life by making those little spinning wheels for typewriters and printers. You may not recall this, but we used to print on machines that had plastic impact wheels. If you wanted to change a type font, you changed wheels.

Today, Daisytek sells computer supplies through its alliances. Someone realized that the majority of their business came from independent dealers. So, they set up a program to manage their distributors web sites, drop ship product from their own facility and handle returns and allowances. I've heard that a high majority of their business comes from electronic commerce. They don't compete with their distributors (like Compaq), they serve their distributors.

Next Steps and the Guerilla
In the absense of good leadership in the Linux business community, we can adopt some guerilla business tactics. Like someone at IBM said, "if they won't give it to us, we can do like the Linux guys and do it ourselves."

If you take all of the individual Linux consultants making a living by working with a few clients and add them together, you have a huge consulting practice. I recommend forming alliances with Linux businesses and with yourselves. Organize the same way the development community has.

The formula we use for doing business on the Web involves four factors. A Web site must have content. That content will create a community of interest. A community of interest creates branding. Branding allows for the existence of commerce. When you form an alliance, set up a web site, fill it with content, promote yourselves and let people know how to easily contact you. In short, create an identity.

Organize on diverse geographical but socially compatible terms. Having a Chinese firm in your network may not allow a Florida based consulting firm to share business opportunities. Then again, depending on the opportunities, it might.

Establish business processes that work. Learn how to open a "ticket", account for your time, and "close out" the ticket. Provide a convenient means to record time and expenses and bill it.

Follow up every engagement and make sure the customer got what they wanted. Make sure the alliance partner had a win. Build a database of solutions for everyone to share. One may not be very good at firewalls but someone else did one and you can easily follow his notes and duplicate the result.

Alliances provide synergism. Be on the constant look out for people with whom to partner. Do it because it serves others as well as ourselves. The money will follow if you put your value system first and practice it.

This article is the seventh in a series on Consultative Sales and Marketing. Linux Today has published the earlier articles and they reside in the site's archives. You can find them by using the search feature of the Linux Today web site.

Tom Adelstein, CPA, is the CIO/CFO of Bynari, Inc. He's the author of several books and articles on business and technology and has management, consulting and hands-on experience in the Information Technology field.