Developing a Software Ecosystem Integration Plan

Every software vendor has to find their place in a the world. No software solution lives on an island, because buyers' problems can almost never be solved by a single solution.

Understanding where your product(s) exist in the buyer's world is critical for growth. A software ecosystem integration plan will help you codify how you do that. This post will walk you through what that plan should consider.

What is a software ecosystem integration plan?

A software ecosystem integration plan is the written plan for being successful in the commercial ecosystem in which your company operates. It's used to help you make planning and investment decisions regarding API integration, business development/partnerships, marketing, and M&A.

Yes, the technical part of "integration" is part of this. You will have to literally integrate your product to others in the ecosystem, and this plan will include how you intend to. But, when talking about "ecosystem integration", you should really looking at a bigger picture.

Ecosystem integration is about being a full citizen of the world in which your products and services exist. Ecosystems are complex and dynamic. Just like a tree frog species understands and adapts to the rain forest ecosystem in order to survive, you must have a plan for adapting to your commercial software ecosystem.

The tree frog reacts in real time, because it cannot reason. You, a team of sophisticated, intelligent business professionals, get the opportunity to map out the dynamics of the ecosystem so you can optimize your behavior accordingly.

In short: a software ecosystem integration plan is your stated approach for achieving your goals, factoring in analysis of the dynamics of your company's commercial software ecosystem.

What should a software ecosystem integration plan include?

You could write a one- or two0-page executive summary about your software ecosystem. You could write a Ph.D. thesis on it. Somewhere in between, there's a Goldilocks (just right) amount of detail, where the time put in isn't overly burdensome, but the output is useful and actionable.

That said, the size is mostly going derive from the critical contents. Your software ecosystem integration plan should at least answer the following questions:

  • Who are the major and minor ecosystem hubs? Typically these are platform-like vendors, often industry leaders.
  • How big is the pool of ecosystem participants around those hubs? Is that pool growing or shrinking? Why?
  • What are the M&A trends in the ecosystem? Who's buying whom? Why?
  • Who are your potential friends? Who are your potential competitors? Who might be both?
  • What does you place in the ecosystem look like today? What do you want it to look like a year from now? Five years?
  • How are you approaching technical integration? To whom will you integrate? Why?

An ecosystem integration plan may also start to overlap with the overall business plan. A SWOT analysis or a competitive overview should be complementary with your ecosystem integration plan. While the latter is a little more specific, those artifacts should feed one another.

How do you develop a software ecosystem integration plan?

Software ecosystem integration is a shared responsibility within a software company. There isn't usually one VP with this responsibility. (Although Scott Brinker may be the most notable exception to that statement.) Your software ecosystem integration plan should be a collaborative effort among the following:

  • CEO/Founder - They own the vision for the company. They are responsible for building that vision, informed by the macro trends in the ecosystem.
  • Head of Partnerships or Business Development - They are the boots on the ground in the ecosystem. They attend events. They shake hands. They build new relationships.
  • Head of Product - They are the company's translation layer between what's happening in the ecosystem (often derived from the CEO, sales team, and BD team) and the engineering team that responds with product developments.
  • Head of Customer Success/Delivery - They own the customer relationship. Usually that relationship is highly impacted by the technical integration and general collaboration with other ecosystem players.
  • Head of Engineering - They make it happen. The synthesize the realities of the ecosystem in product that ideally value to the ecosystem for customers and potential partners.

Any collaborative effort should have one owner to ensure its success. The order of the list above suggests a priority level for who should probably own the initiative. (We're here to help if you'd like to involve a third party.)

A great deal of the information you include in your plan is going to be opinion. It'll be your team's interpretation of ecosystem dynamics based on experience. That's ok! This document is valuable synthesis of your collective understanding.

But, it's useful to include some quantitative and factual information to gut-check your assumptions or confirm opinions. The following are potentially helpful resources:

  • Crunchbase - A database of venture funded company profiles that usually has M&A and investment details.
  • G2Crowd and Capterra - Details about customer satisfaction and growth for software companies. Warning: They kind of cook the books on the customer reviews, so take them with a grain of salt.
  • Gartner or Forrester - These analyst groups break down macro dynamics of markets. They may be directly applicable to yours or you may have to connect some dots yourself. They also tend to be pricey and a little esoteric.

The best resources are those that are niche and specific to your market. Look for well-reputed analysts, bloggers, and other industry professionals. Even sometimes the analysis from competitors or other ecosystem players has credibility. The more specific (but still credible) the information is to your ecosystem, the more valuable it is.

Imperfect is Better Than Nothing

Your software ecosystem integration plan doesn't have to be perfect. It never will be. The most important outcomes are the insights and shared vision the exercise of defining the plan will create. Just do it for the sake of doing it.

We'll update this post later, and link to a free template you can build on for your written document. Subscribe to our blog below for updates.

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