Last week (Aconex invests in north American sales effort), I mentioned that, Aconex, the Australian SaaS construction collaboration technology provider has been developing a partner programme to help it extend its (already quite extensive) international reach. The Aconex Partner Progam webpage went live on Monday, and – in addition to Tidefall – details six other sales partners, an integration partner and two product partners.
I talked to Aconex’s Carey Jack and Chris Dobbyn about the initiative. Carey said it was intended to augment the company’s direct sales model (“it’s not about volume”), particularly in new geographical markets or in vertical sectors where Aconex is under-represented.
The selection of sales partners appears to confirm this; it has agreed non-exclusive partnerships with IT businesses in countries such as France, Italy, Japan, Turkey and Uruguay (as well as Tidefall’s Canadian operation). He explained that these are businesses that typically have good construction market penetration in respect of project management applications and consultancy, for whom the addition of a Software-as-a-Service application filled a gap in their product portfolio.
While Aconex has been striving to build a more substantial direct sales presence in north America, it has also recognised that in vertical markets such as oil and gas, introductions from established IT partners such as Texas-based IMS, could be invaluable (see IMS news release). IMS specialises in enterprise project portfolio management (EPPM) systems, including Oracle Primavera. Aconex will help IMS enhance access to project stake-holders.
Aconex’s first integration partner is Houston, Texas-based Gimmal Group, which, Chris told me, had extensive experience in enterprise content management (ECM) solutions including MS SharePoint, Documentum and OpenText. Gimmal’s core market has been the energy and natural resources market, and with Aconex it now has a SaaS solution to offer to its clients which can be supported via connectors to their selected in-house ECM solutions. The relationship with Gimmal has already helped introduce Aconex to several potential new customers, Chris said.
Having already blogged about one of Aconex’s product partners, operation and maintenance manuals specialist Grazer (post), we spent more time talking about the other product partner: New York-based EcoSys. Chris explained this company has a strong track record in developing programme management software – its team created the original version of what is now Primavera – and has been selected by Aconex for its expertise in project cost management (in my view, previously a gap in Aconex’s offering when compared to rival solutions in the north American market, such as e-Builder; post). There is also a strong element here of integration, for EcoSys’s product can also deliver information on cost and schedule changes to back-office ERP solution such as SAP and JD Edwards, making it potentially attractive to some of the United States’ Tier One infrastructure providers.
Not for the first time, Aconex is aiming to widen the gap between itself and rival SaaS collaboration vendors. Augmenting its normal direct sales approach, it has (so far) identified not one but four north American partners, each with different geographic or vertical market specialisms but also strong technical credentials in related fields (eg: Bentley solutions, scheduling, cost management) that will help it reach out indirectly to new potential customers across the continent (by contrast, Asite’s US expansion has been mainly reliant on reprographic contacts, while BIW has established a relationship with Sage CRE). And by working with sales partners in locations such as Uruguay and Turkey, it can extend its international reach without any significant investment in those countries.
I did briefly discuss with Chris and Carey whether partners whose expertise is largely focused on selling conventional on-premise software – which usually means a big up-front license sale (and commission!) – could also be effectively incentivised to sell Software-as-a-Service – where deals are normally clinched on the basis of regular subscription payments, and sales staff may be remunerated in a different way. Conventional value-added resellers or VARs might bundle a software application with new hardware, and provide integration, customisation, implementation, training and support services, but there are fewer opportunities with SaaS, and VAR sales people may prefer to focus on deals where they can reap a quick and significant commission. Aconex hope to avoid this by working with VARs whose existing tools complement or can easily be connected to Aconex, and some of its VARs’ portfolios do not include a web-based service in industries (such as oil and gas) where web-based access to a remotely hosted service will be valued by geographically dispersed project team members. (See my March 2011 post A role for resellers?)