What’s mine is yours: Collaboration important in local software industry

Published in the Ottawa Business Journal newspaper and website.
June 25, 2007 (June 27 on OttawaBusinessJournal.com)

Click here to view this article on OttawaBusinessJournal.com.

Jeff Bennett (left) and Joe Bevk of ServiceVantage say Ottawa software companies sometimes have a short-sighted view when it comes to learning from their colleagues.
Jeff Bennett (left) and Joe Bevk of ServiceVantage say Ottawa software companies sometimes have a short-sighted view when it comes to learning from their colleagues.
Photo by DARREN BROWN for the Ottawa Business Journal

Ottawa’s software industry is like any other thing in its infancy: it just hasn’t learned to share with others yet.

At least, that’s what some industry insiders are suggesting.

Joe Bevk and Jeff Bennett, partners at software business consulting firm ServiceVantage Corporation, say local companies tend to be so focused on their specific applications that they may ignore any chances to work with other companies who might share similar client bases, even if they don’t do quite the same thing.

Take, for example, on-demand response management solutions maker Kinaxis Inc., manufacturing monitoring systems company Sciemetric Instruments Inc. and aviation maintenance software firm Mxi Technologies, Mr. Bennett says.

On the surface, the three companies may have nothing in common, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Kinaxis may want to sell to Ford – which works with Sciemetric – Sciemetric might want to deal with Mxi’s customer Boeing, while Mxi might be interested in selling to Honeywell, which works with Kinaxis.

“If the CEOs of these three companies were to meet and roll out the Rolodex, there’s no doubt each would have contacts that would benefit the others,” Mr. Bevk says. “But often, local software companies are so myopic in view that they won’t look out the window and see they are selling to or want to sell to the same clients as other firms, who are often just down the street.”

Ottawa Software Cluster chair Bruce Lazenby notes that it’s something Canadians don’t do well because local companies are so focused on protecting intellectual property and preventing others from stealing their ideas.

“A lot of them may ask, ‘If I’m sharing data, am I losing power? Will it come back to bite me?’ It’s not like that in other countries, where people are looking across the table to see who can help them make more money,” he says, explaining that it’s possible to share strategies and tips without giving up confidential information. “It’s a bit like peeking at exams; the natural impulse is to cover up your answers, but in other regions you will see companies working together to get a higher exam score.”

Macadamian Technologies chief executive Frederic Boulanger agrees, saying that many companies fall into the trap of trying to go it alone because it’s easier than getting out of their comfort zones to meet people.

“It’s not like if I do business intelligence and you do telecom software that there’s no commonalities,” he says. “Even though we’re in different businesses, there’s nothing wrong in understanding better how another company does its business … Some business patterns are the same everywhere and at the end of the day, you have to make money, right? So we should discuss how you go about that.”

Mr. Boulanger, who is also the co-chair and co-founder of the collaborative body Ottawa Software Executive Forum (OSEF) and a board member of the OSC, says he saw the same problem occurring in the software research and development sector specifically as in the industry as a whole, which is why he helped found OSEF.

“Research and development people tend to live in silos because they’re afraid of sharing bread-and-butter information that’s confidential to the corporation,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t gain insights from other companies’ mistakes or talk about issues they’re running into. There’s value in talking to others to see that others are asking the same questions and know that you’re not alone (with a problem).”

While it’s true that the local software industry is still struggling to work together, and that collaboration often takes a lot of investigation and effort in order to best identify potential partnerships, all four insiders say there are still forums available for software companies to network and discuss similarities.

Mr. Lazenby suggests getting involved in various clusters or taking advantage of seminars organized by the OSC or the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, while Mr. Bevk and Mr. Bennett say it might be good to talk to companies like ServiceVantage who aren’t software firms themselves but can see patterns and synergies.

“You’ve got to peel the onion back a few layers to see the similarities,” says Mr. Bennett.

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