3 min read

Big Blue’s VAR czar

Running one of the biggest channels in IT means trying to mix and match regional strategies to ensure success worldwide. The man on the spot is trying to build a ecosystem to smooth the process

Donn Atkins, the general manager of IBM Global Business Partners, has probably one of the toughest jobs in the IT industry.He has to not only please IBM, which can be a challenge itself, but also more than 90,000 partners around the world. He has no choice but to please them, because this group generates US$30 billion of IBM’s overall revenue. That is just over one third of the company’s entire business.
Besides Alison Watson, Microsoft’s global channel general manager, Atkins is responsible for the largest group of IT resellers in the world.
Today, Atkins has a lot on his plate to take care of. For example, he still is helping Lenovo build out and bring more service business to its channel.
CDN recently had an opportunity to speak with Aktins during a visit to Toronto.

CDN:Since IBM is virtually in every country in the world, it must be challenging to develop the right channel strategies for each region. How do you go about doing that?

Donn Atkins: That is one question a number of people ask me. I lead the global partner efforts and one of the more effective things I do is visit each country and share strategies and meet with partners and people and talk about where we are going and get their questions and ideas.

CDN:At Partnerworld, IBM talked about building a partner ecosystem. I have heard this from other companies such as Microsoft and Intel. How does yours differ?

D.A.: You are probably aware IBM as a company is built on open industry standards and our product strategy enables the broadest reach. The difference is openness. Some companies in the industry say they drive partners on their company’s products alone, and that is not what customers want. Customers want suppliers who can help and integrate the investments they made and extend those investments by working with a broad range of partners.

CDN:IBM still owns 18 per cent of Lenovo. Does that pose a challenge?

D.A: Part of our agreement with Lenovo would be to continue to participate in the Partnerworld program and work closely together. The transition has gone well and partners tell me they have seen what we have set out and it is a transparent transition. When we work with PCs and servers there is a good collaboration and the client and partner teams help them drive business. It is part of the management cadence and I expect to see a positive relationship between the two companies.

CDN: Lenovo CEO Steve Ward commented recently about getting people outside the core IBM heritage for Lenovo. Is that a shot at IBM?

D.A.: I haven’t heard that comment. I really can’t comment on what Steve’s objectives are. I know that many of my former colleagues are in a leadership position at Lenovo and my interactions with them have been positive. As far as Steve’s comments, I would not comment on that because it was probably made in a broader context.

CDN: Another thing I hear is opening up services to the channel. What is the plan there?

D.A.: At Partnerworld last year we unveiled this initiative and really it has been received well. We have had partners involved in services business for a number of year with maintenance. There was an infusion of more than US$300 million invested around SMB. It is going to be partner-led. IBM made an investment in education and we have seen hundreds of partners around the world deliver these services in Express Management Services. In fact, in Canada IBM runs a pilot with collaboration office that has direct collaboration with 90 business partners. There are so many services opportunities out there and working with partners is a natural extension to being successful.