We all know that alliances with customers, competitors, and suppliers are important to any company’s ability to compete. As I write in my latest post for Harvard Business Review, that ability is compromised by the way we manage those relationships: all too often, each alliance is “owned” by one team or business unit. Thus, companies often miss out on opportunities for innovation that would result from transferring ideas and resources from small silos to other aspects of the business.
I set out in my book, Network Advantage: How to Unlock Value from Your Alliances and Partnerships, that a more holistic approach to managing alliances allows companies to create innovative new lines of business. A recent collaboration between customer relationship management and analytics company Salesforce.com and Dutch electronics giant Philips provides a case in point.
The collaboration between two companies began as a simple buyer-supplier deal: Philips used Salesforce software to enhance its customer relationships. But somewhere along the line, executives in these two companies started asking: if Salesforce knows how to manage CRM data, can it also manage the clinical data from some 190 million medical patients that are treated each year with Philips-made equipment?
The two partners have decided to build a platform to connect healthcare providers, insurance companies, and patients to deliver clinical monitoring solutions. The Philips Digital Healthsuite Platform, as it is called, will collect and analyze data drawn from medical devices to enhance clinical decision making by professionals and allow patients to take a more active role in managing their personal health.
As a first move, the partners have created two applications — “eCareCompanion” and “eCareCoordinator.” The eCareCompanion is installed on a patient’s smartphone (or tablet) and connects to their health monitoring equipment, such as weight scales, pill dispenser units, blood oxygen measurement devices, and thermometers. Imagine John, a patient with obstructive pulmonary disease, often caused by smoking. John lives at home. To monitor his condition, John’s weight, blood oxygen, and body temperature data are constantly uploaded to the platform. The eCareCoordinator then analyzes the data feed from the devices worn by the patients. If the data pattern from a particular patient becomes worrisome, the eCareCoordinator can inform a nurse, relative, or doctor.
How can Philips and Salesforce persuade hospitals to start using this platform? How can the hospitals be sure the system is reliable and can lead to tangible cost savings? This is where an alliance between Philips and Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands comes into play. The two partners work very closely to develop and test new equipment, including the wearable devices that can collect patent data for the Digital Healthsuite Platform. The use of these devices on Radboud’s patients helps Philips develop a business case for using them in other hospitals. Furthermore, in the process of building the wearable devices, developing the apps, and analyzing patient data, Philips, Salesforce.com, and Radboud develop valuable know-how to share with future partners who want to build their own apps or devices.
This innovation was made possible by the way Philips manages its alliances. Philips has created an Alliance Management office, made up of a small team of professionals who help Philips executives run individual alliances. The team helped negotiate the contracts with Salesforce and with Radboud Medical Center, obtained agreement on the key performance indicators, and developed tools to evaluate the partners’ perspectives on the evolution of the alliance. They also manage regular meetings in which the Philips executives in charge of the Salesforce.com alliance can learn about what is going on in the alliance with Radboud and vice versa. This helps build multi-billion market opportunities across the three partnerships.
There are two lessons here for your company. First, get more out of your alliances as drivers by thinking of them as a network. And second, build a team inside your company to manage this network, especially where knowledge and resources overlap. There is huge potential in collaborating with customers, suppliers, or even competitors.