Exploring Overlooked Aspects of Building Integrations & Partnerships: Considerations for Use Cases and Scalability
On this episode of our podcast Between Product and Partnerships we interviewed Swetha Kolli, Head of Integrations Engineering and Technical Services at Bolt. Bolt is a e-commerce payments platform that strengthens retailers’ relationships with their customers by unlocking secure, lightning-fast checkouts.
In this interview Swetha shared:
Frequently neglected parts of the integration and technology partnerships building process.
Her perspective on the partner technology landscape and pain points that remain unaddressed.
What to include in an integration proposal for technical teams.
Swetha’s Role as Director of Integrations Engineering
Swetha's primary focus in her role at Bolt is to develop and implement the strategic vision for the technical services team.
Operationally, she oversees the delivery of technical solutions to both e-commerce merchant customers and technology partners in Bolt’s ecosystem. Her goal is to ensure that all integrations are built for scalability and executed efficiently.
Challenges in the SaaS Integration Space
The podcast discussion started with the challenges faced in the integration space, which has seen significant growth. Swetha highlighted the tension between the growing demand for user-facing integrations and the allocation of resources away from core operations.
Use Case Discovery for SaaS Integrations
One of the common challenges Swetha has encountered as a result of competing priorities is prioritizing time for use case discovery.
While it can be a time consuming process, understanding why mutual customers would want to use a particular service and focusing on solving specific problems helps identify common ground and the value proposition of the integration.
“Well-defined use cases lead to a seamless user experience between integrated solutions.”
Often Overlooked Aspects of Building Technology Partnerships
Swetha also shared several often-overlooked aspects of partnerships that are critical for the success of user-facing integrations in the long-term:
1. Identifying long-term goals: Identifying the long-term goals of a partnership and gathering market insights helps ensure those objectives align with current business needs.
2. Leveraging in-house teams: Cross-functional colleagues, like sales, professional services, and customer support, are often in-tune with valuable customer insights, trends, and pain points. Leveraging this internal knowledge can be beneficial when building successful integrations or partnerships.
3. Having dedicated resources: Swetha stressed the importance of having dedicated resources to manage relationships with partners and oversee technical integration. This approach ensures scalability and standardization in integrations.
“Some of the technology partnerships or partners we work with are ERP vendors,” Swetha shared. “If I have one technical point of contact for all the ERP vendors that we intend to partner with, this helps with scalability and standardizes the way we integrate with that type of system.”
4. Partner onboarding: Lastly, Swetha shared that a streamlined partner onboarding process is key to fostering engagement and providing a positive developer experience.
“Simplifying onboarding helps partners maximize their benefits quickly.”
The Emergence and Growth of Partner Technology
Swetha acknowledged the growing significance of partner ecosystems and management platforms. Citing an IDC report, she revealed that by 2026, a substantial portion of organizations' new applications will be developed within their ecosystems through collaborations with partners.
Swetha stressed that businesses are eager to go-to-market swiftly, achieve higher velocity, and see quick results. To meet these demands, companies are optimizing their models, and this might involve introducing new products and services like partner technology to help increase product stickiness or enhance operational efficiency.
The Rise of Partner Account Mapping Platforms
Swetha noted a significant shift from managing partnerships and mutual customer overlaps in spreadsheets a few years ago to today's adoption of partnership platforms.
Many of these platforms aim to make it more efficient to monetize partnerships – an ongoing challenge in the world of business development.
She highlighted the role of specialized platforms that aim to streamline the entire partnership process, some of these platforms specializing in account mapping, for example.
The account mapping systems offer an operationalized way to identify overlaps among partners to surface shared customers, opportunities, or prospects.
The ultimate goal is to streamline various aspects of business operations, such as sales cycles, marketing efforts, lead generation, and outreach.
The Rise of Ecosystem Management Platforms
Swetha also shed light on the emergence of ecosystem management platforms. These platforms act as comprehensive partnership operating systems, going beyond account mapping.
They offer end-to-end solutions, spanning from onboarding to operationalization and even tracking partner activities.
This all-in-one approach caters to a wide array of partnership types, including technology partnerships and channel reselling, while also providing turnkey marketplace platforms.
The Future of Partner Technology
Swetha also discussed some of the problems faced by technology partnerships professionals that still haven’t been addressed in the partner technology arena.
She emphasized that when initiating a technology partnership, several aspects need attention. Firstly, evaluation of whether the potential partner aligns with the business is necessary, and once alignment is clear, this process becomes similar to a sales cycle – involving contracts, negotiations and signatures.
Swetha pointed out a common hurdle in this process is tracking the progress of partner enablement.
She highlighted a real-life scenario where both sides of a partnership she was facilitating had tasks to complete to get an integration build and to market. Yet, the collaboration lacked an organized approach to monitor the development progress effectively.
To address these challenges, Swetha outlined her vision for comprehensive ecosystem management platforms that would serve as centralized hubs for managing every aspect of technology partnerships.
She emphasized the importance of having one platform for tracking contracts, Statements of Work (SOWs), and Master Services Agreements (MSAs).
Additionally, she suggested that these platforms should facilitate seamless tracking of integration progress, with the ability to exchange technical documents like solution designs and API specifications efficiently.
Managing Onboarding and Go-to-Market for Integrations
Swetha also stressed the importance of extending these platforms to cover onboarding and go-to-market activities. One of her key desires is for a single platform to handle the entire lifecycle of a technology partnership.
This includes not only technical aspects but also sharing marketing and sales collateral. This would eliminate the need for fragmented communication across various channels like email, Slack, and Teams, which can significantly enhance efficiency and collaboration.
When to Build Integrations with Partners vs In-House
In today’s SaaS market conditions there is a growing expectation for rapid action and innovation. Despite this, it’s still important to have a thorough vetting process to identify whether to partner or build functionality in-house.
Swetha outlined a vetting process she uses to identify technology partners that are more likely to engage in mutually beneficial relationships.
Her approach to identifying whether to build a technical solution in-house or with a partner primarily focuses on two factors: the urgency of the requirement and how central the technology is to the business.
Swetha shared that her initial step is to assess the internal and external landscape when considering a new partnership.
This involves a careful examination of the overarching business goals on both sides to see if they align.
For example, is the objective of a new integration to enhance customer experience, or is it to scale product capabilities? This assessment sets the stage for other decisions.
Once the business objectives are clear, Swetha highlighted three different avenues that SaaS organizations typically explore when looking to add new functionality to their product:
Building the required functionality in-house from scratch.
Outsourcing these features to an external agency.
Integrating with an existing partner in the market.
Urgency to bring a product to market often points towards engaging in a partnership as the preferred route, especially when the functionality is not central to the business, but adds value.
On the other hand, when there's no immediate time pressure, but the functionality is a core component of the business, the in-house development approach makes the most sense.
However, if there are limited technical resources available, the functionality is a core component of the business, and there is urgency to bring it to market, outsourcing to an external agency or implementing an integration infrastructure platform may be the best route.
This framework ensures that the chosen path aligns with an organization's goals and priorities.
Identifying Technical Red Flags in a Partner
Swetha then discussed the technical red flags that can deter a partnership, and emphasized the importance of assessing technical compatibility alongside business alignment.
She shared that red flags can include if a partner is a legacy system, as these can complicate integrations and long-term maintenance.
Flexibility in integration architecture, the complexity of deployments, and data mapping difficulties were also highlighted as potential obstacles to smooth collaboration.
Building a Compelling Business Case for Technology Partnerships
A common challenge arises when a technology partnerships manager lacks dedicated technical resources or a technical liaison to bridge the communication gap between partnerships and technical teams.
Swetha shared advice on how to effectively build a compelling case for integrations and secure the necessary resources.
Leverage Cross-Functional Teams and In-House Talent
Swetha mentioned the importance of tapping into cross-functional partners or utilizing in-house talent when you don't have a dedicated technical liaison. This approach provides insights into the ease of integration, based on real-world experiences with customers and existing vendors.
Cross-functional teams, including sales, solution engineering, services engineering, and customer support, can offer data points that help gauge the complexity of integrating with a new partner and also customer interest.
Their feedback can be instrumental in ball-parking the level of effort required and the value an integration can bring.
Highlight Use Cases and Scalability
When presenting a case for an integration, Swetha advised compiling a comprehensive list of use cases. Swetha advises partnerships managers to illustrate how these use cases can potentially scale with multiple partners.
By showcasing overlaps and demonstrating that the same piece of code could benefit several partners, you can significantly influence product and tech teams.
Practical Example - How Bolt Creates a Repeatable Process for Building Integrations
Swetha shared a practical example involving Bolt, an e-commerce platform, and their partnerships with order management systems (OMS). When integrating with one OMS provider, they built a custom solution, which involved collaborative work.
However, what makes this process intriguing is that the model for data exchange between Bolt's platform and any OMS provider remains consistent.
Each OMS provider may have its unique subset of data, but the core integration framework remains the same. This enables Bolt to streamline the onboarding and activation of subsequent OMS providers, making the integration process significantly faster and more efficient.
Swetha's insights shed light on how thoughtful planning and a focus on scalability can pave the way for seamless and repeatable integrations, ultimately benefiting both technology partnerships and the businesses they serve.
Emphasize Business Benefits
To build a strong case, partnership managers should consider both technical and business aspects.
Swetha suggested gathering a list of mutual customers, conducting a cost-benefit analysis, and forecasting revenue metrics. This data provides a solid foundation for constructing a compelling business case that highlights the potential ROI of the integration.
All in all, building a compelling case for technology partnerships requires a multifaceted approach.
By leveraging cross-functional partners, emphasizing use cases and scalability, and showcasing the business benefits, partnerships managers can effectively communicate their integration needs to product and technical teams.
This approach not only streamlines the decision-making process but also enhances the chances of securing the necessary resources for successful integrations.
Listen to More Conversations About Technology Partnerships, Integrations and APIs