Over the past few years, Microsoft has been actively encouraging Partners to begin building their own Intellectual Property (IP) which complements and extends the functionality of products like Office 365, Azure, and Dynamics. It’s clear that the emphasis has moved from reselling product licenses to asking partners to build their own tools and software. This is partially down to the nature of the cloud – it’s less open to customization and, since it is deployed by Microsoft, means partners with on premise projects are now having to find new ways to create value and build a business based on services.
This is obviously a big shift, and for some businesses it will call for a significant change in how they work. That being said, it also offers some huge opportunities to use the skills and experience you already have to create exciting new products and services.
It’s clear that creating IP is profitable too. As this EU study of European firms shows, companies that have registered intellectual property have an average of 29% higher revenue per employee compared to those without. And other research (see this, from the Microsoft Partner Database) shows how tech companies with IP are a lot more profitable than those who have none.
While reselling Microsoft products or providing managed services is profitable, the research shows that businesses that create their own IP are almost twice as profitable as those who sell 3rd party software products.
Creating Unique Value
At ISAAC, we are relatively new to the Microsoft family, however we have spent a long time (pre-launch and daily) studying engagement and analyzing the tangible value that cloud systems bring to people. After all, any system is only valuable if people, your end users, actually engage with it, ensuring it becomes an integral part of daily life within your organization.
Our solutions create a specialized customer experience that allows our customers to build a bond with their solution. That value is based on the product simplifying a user’s working life. Each of our core solutions of Intranet, CRM, and HR rapidly move from being a business directive to being a people directive once deployed. This is all down to the fact that they are easy to engage with, and quickly produce measurable results for the people that use them.
As with any creative process, there’s a lot of learning involved in creating IP. Here’s how we approach it.
1. Address Business Problems Not Tech Problems
All too often, technology innovations solve… technology problems. Instead, we have always focused on solving wider business problems. If you can identify a common issue that businesses run up against, and then use your technology know-how to resolve it, you’re much more likely to find an audience that is ready to buy your solution.
As soon as you help an individual or group of individuals reach an outcome that achieves something for them, you become valuable. Often, this may mean solving a problem that they didn’t know existed, as its very easy for busy companies to become introspective when trying to figure out a root cause to an issue.
2. Keep It Simple
The agile method for software development is especially useful when building IP. Start building your product with a focus on core functionality and then test with users, especially existing customers. This will help you avoid overshooting the mark and building a huge, complex product that no one really wants. As you learn from your test users, you can adjust the product and iterate. This minimizes your risk of heading in the wrong direction.
3. Seek Early Proof of Concept
Once you have a working model of your product or solution, you really need to know if it has legs to stand on. Despite your unflinching belief that your idea is “the next big thing”, you’ll have to test the market to see:
- Will anyone buy this?
- Is it scalable?
- Does it solve a pain point that a competitor hasn’t solved?
- Is the addressable market big enough?
- What is our best route to market?
4. Use the Resources Accessible to You
There is a huge amount of free help and support out there for Microsoft Partners, including through the Microsoft Partner Community or the application builder center. These resources can help with anything from getting advice using Azure to tips for marketing your finished product.
Also, talk with your contacts at Microsoft about your IP for more specific support. Study your network and contacts. Are their potential buyers you already know? Can your contacts provide legal or financial support? Keep in mind that your personal contacts and relationships are incredibly valuable.
5. Build on What Microsoft Already Provides
There’s no point in reinventing the wheel. Microsoft provides enormous power and a diverse range of incredible products you can use, ready to go. You can take full advantage of the features of Office 365, SharePoint online, OneDrive, Skype, Delve, Azure, Dynamics, and more. Be creative with powerful tools like Microsoft Graph – it lets you make use of the huge amounts of information available in Office 365 and uses different data points to create tools that are useful and use machine learning.
6. Dot Your I’s and Cross Your T’s (Eventually)
First thing first, you need to ensure your product or solution works. You don’t want the added pressure of a huge failure when you are responsible for an organization’s business, so you need to focus on end results first. But eventually, you need to ensure you protect your ideas and methods (and thus register you IP). This Forbes article provides a whistle-stop tour of intellectual property rights and best practice to help you protect against the possibility of anyone stealing your idea.
Our Journey with Microsoft
At ISAAC, we’ve loved (almost) every minute of building our own SharePoint and Office 365 applications. They share our DNA, and are built using shared logic (ours and our customers). We set out to solve problems that we ourselves had experienced in every business we had either worked in or with. We wanted to help organizations simplify workflows and automate processes and we knew that if successful, our engagement and growth potential would be huge.
Our 100% repeat business record and the wholesale engagement of our customer’s employees have proven our early gut-feel, anxiety ridden days worthwhile. So, take the leap with IP and see where the journey takes you.
How have you built your own product IP to set yourself apart in the industry? Share your experiences and tips with other partners in the comments below.