A decade or so ago I was involved in a consulting project with a large telco that wanted to "smart the dumb pipes" and add extra services to its regular phone and tolls packages.
The theory went, back then, that since regular tolls and phone line services were being disrupted by Voice over IP (VoIP) and other such technologies, that telcos would have to move fast to replace that lost revenue with something new. It seemed logical that, since this telco already sold a bunch of product to small and midsize businesses, that bundling a bunch of software products in with its regular services was a no-brainer.
So we sat down and drew lots of pretty pictures about just how it would work and how enabling it would be for this particular telco's customers. And then . . . nothing much happened other than a splashy and expensive co-marketing campaign for one particular SaaS vendor.
Upon reflection, there were two very good reasons that the project never happened. The first was the fact that telcos are notoriously slow and unable to innovate, spending more time meeting to discuss what could happen than actually doing anything. The second reason, of far more relevance to this article, is the fact that their existing systems are so inflexible that rolling out new products and services is just too hard.
Which is where AppDirect comes in. AppDirect provides a full-service cloud marketplace. Essentially if you're an organization that wants to create a marketplace with a bunch of different products and services, you can use AppDirect to provide all of the plumbing you need -- distribution, marketing, billing, etc.
And the opportunity hasn't gone unnoticed by large companies (which, you would think, could easily create something like this themselves). AppDirect has signed up a number of big-name customers, including Telstra, ADP, Samsung and Deutsche Telekom. Those organizations use AppDirect to "plug in" a huge range of cloud solutions from vendors like Microsoft, Google and Box.
Add to that list Rogers, the Canadian telco, which has announced that it is leveraging AppDirect's platform to create the Rogers Business App Market that it has launched for its small-business customers. The Rogers Business App Market aims to make it easy for Rogers' existing clients to find and procure software, all on a single bill: single bill, single vendor and single sign-on across all the different cloud services a small business uses.
This must be a satisfying moment for AppDirect's CEO, Daniel Saks. He has some parochial reasons for crowing about this one.
"Our partnership with Rogers is a major milestone for AppDirect and hits a personal note for me as well," he said. "As a native of Canada, I've seen firsthand how Canadian small businesses can struggle without access to technology, including my family's 100-year-old furniture business that closed down during the Great Recession. By working with trusted providers like Rogers, Canadian businesses have easy access to the cloud solutions that can make them more productive and competitive, and help them thrive."
I'm a big fan of what AppDirect is doing -- in part because of the frustration I felt all those years ago trying to get a similar marketplace set up.
I managed to sit in on an AppDirect customer day in Europe earlier this year and I was surprised at just how broad AppDirect's customer base is -- the fact that competing organizations were in a room discussing how to set up an app marketplace is testimony to the fact that current systems make that seemingly simple aim nearly impossible. Rogers is yet another proof point of the value of third-party marketplace vendors.
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