In July 2020, Mobihealthnews reports that “2020 looks like a banner year for digital health M&As with 35 deals”. Mergers and acquisitions have helped provide an advantage to many companies looking to achieve specific goals. Many of these digital health mergers are being driven by the opportunity to bring together complementary capabilities of each company’s products and areas of expertise to create integrated product offerings. Product integrations are designed to gain, disrupt, or create new markets, increase revenue, and deliver greater value. Product integrations can result in valuable services that expand and improve client and employee capabilities, deliver operational efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve user experiences.
While mergers may make sense for some companies, most enterprises find that they don’t need to acquire another company to bring new capabilities into their software products. A more common approach is to choose to partner with another firm and integrate the capabilities needed from the partner’s solution. While the approach is different (acquisition versus partnering), many of the drivers and the challenges of bringing applications together are the same.
At Geneca, we specialize in building integrated solutions for our clients. We help them invent new software products, evaluate solution partners, and develop and launch the new software. Here are some important topics you should explore with your team when laying out your integration project needs.
Drive the adoption of your integrated solution with the right user experience.
When thinking about an integrated solution, it’s important to understand the key role that user experience can play in the success or failure of a new product. Companies that are focused on delivering a rich user experience for their customers often find themselves faced with a dilemma when they want to add capabilities from a complementary product. They want to ensure that they choose a product that contains the features they need and will save them time in getting their new application to market. At the same time, they need to determine how to make the user’s experience seamless so that the user doesn’t feel like they’re using two different applications.
Branding & Marketing
It is important to understand the branding and marketing needs of your new product. What do you want your users to see? Do you need to be able to show your brand exclusively or is co-branding or visibility to the partner’s brand acceptable to your marketing and product stakeholders? Understanding these needs before you start the selection process allows you to immediately eliminate partners from the list who do not offer the branding option you need.
Ensure staying power by defining your resources and user needs.
In order to maximize the value of an integrated solution for both your business and your users, you want your product to go the distance. In order to determine whether or not your new solution has long-term potential, you’ll want to consider your resources including your budget and timeline. You also want to understand your needs. What capabilities will bring your users additional value while still sticking to your budget and timeline?
Licensing options can impact your product both from a budget and integration perspective. For example, if you have a large number of users and they don’t need exclusive access to the partner feature set when using the core application, you might choose a perpetual or pooled license option.
Also, some licenses don’t offer the same levels of integration – for example, if the application contains an SDK, you may need a separate or different type of license for each user in order to seamlessly incorporate the partner features into your application. Make sure you have a good understanding of how and when your users need access to the functionality and your product’s scalability curve over the first year.
In some cases, you may be able to select or disqualify a partner’s solution based on integration options alone. If the partner’s offerings don’t allow you to leverage the capabilities of your own solution, it can add concerted effort and time to build and iron out the edge cases. Be careful of the phrase ‘we can provide the functionality’ – even if the functionality can be built, relying on it if it’s unavailable now can have a big impact on your end product and its delivery.
Partner seamlessly by setting expectations up front.
Previous Experience with This Partner
If your company already has licenses or a partner relationship with a company whose product you’re considering for your solution, don’t assume that what worked for your colleague’s product will work for you. It may seem obvious but you would be surprised to learn how many product teams have made the mistake of assuming that how the product was integrated, licensed, and branded for another solution is the ‘best and fastest way’ or ‘the only IT approved’ way to go. In a few short conversations, you can learn a lot from the team who worked with that partner and product, saving your project time in costly re-work or contract changes.
How adaptable and flexible do you need the partner’s solution to be in responding to market needs? Is it important that new features are being added on a regular basis? This can also be a double-edged sword because every time the partner’s product changes, it may require a change in your implementation to incorporate the new capabilities. You need to consider your whole product life cycle and not just the initial technical implementation.
Understand your data and how to protect it.
Data is ‘currency’ in today’s connected and integrated landscape. Therefore, it’s essential that you have a grasp on the data you’ll need to incorporate into your new product. The ability of your solution to collect and analyze data is most likely a large piece of the unique value you can provide to users. Integrating with a partner application can help you achieve that quickly and easily, but only if you consider some of these things before you get started.
Flexibility in Data Sharing
Just as flexibility is critical in your business as it evolves, it’s also necessary among partner applications to know that your solution is feasible and long lasting. What data from the partner’s solution do you need to share within the applications and with other applications? Are there any restrictions you face in getting these needs met? Also think of the long-term – even if constraints may not affect your product now, they might indeed limit you in the future in terms of scalability and growth.
You can save time in security discussions if you wait until you have a direction on your integration approach and a pretty good understanding of your user roles and permissions. This seems to be the area where most conflicts or security ‘gaps’ or misunderstandings can occur. While your team may be more focused on the topics of functionality and how it will layer into your new product, take a little bit of time to get the basic understanding of what data, if any, you will need to secure. Consider what information users should be able to see, what things they should be able to do, and what ‘roles’ are needed to handle all different types of users in your system.
Your competitive advantage may already exist – what are you waiting for?
In many cases, integration of a partner solution can yield the fastest way to incorporate complementary features that are not part of your product’s core competency. For many different businesses, this provides a great opportunity to expand your offerings, delight customers, and position yourself ahead of the competition by offering something they do not.
In addition to the considerations outlined here, you want to also keep in mind some basics for choosing a partner in general. Make sure you know their style and ability to execute. Communication and trust are key in any partnership. When it comes to an integration project, you also want to find a partner with a complimentary development model and a willingness to form a balanced relationship where each company is motivated to make things work. A great solution paired with a great partnership is what yields great overall results.
Take some time with your product team up front to determine what type of partner you need, understand how the integration will support your user experience, and define product life cycle goals and you’ll be off to a great start!