IBM needs partners to be ambidextrous

LAS VEGAS, NEV. – While IBM Corp. doesn’t want partners to throw out the baby with the bathwater, Big Blue does want its channel to be ambidextrous: tending to its traditional business base while capitalizing on key growth opportunities around cloud computing, big data and engagement.

Speaking to partners on the opening day of IBM’s annual PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, IBM president and CEO Virginia Rometty outlined the investments IBM is making in those areas, and encouraged partners to orient their businesses to make those bets with them.

“You have wonderful current businesses and those will still grow, and we want you to help them grow,” said Rometty. “But there are also new businesses.”

The three focus areas won’t be news to business partners – IBM first called these shots and charted this course several years ago. The vendor had continued to invest billions though, though internal research and development and dozens of acquisitions, to put meat on the bones and build the products and programs to drive those key growth areas.

For example, in recent years IBM has invested over $24 billion in big data analytics alone, including as many as 30 related acquisitions.

“When you think of big data, I’d like you to think of it as a new natural resource for the world,” Rommety told partners. “It’s unlimited, but you only get the value if you refine it.”

IBM wants to make sure its partners have the broad portfolio and the skills to help capture these opportunities, and that drove a number of IBM’s announcements on Tuesday.

Around cloud computing, IBM launched a number of new initiatives through the PartnerWorld partner program. With ThinkAcademy, IBM is making the same cloud training resources it provides to its employees available to partners. It includes videos and other online training courses. Also new is the Cloud Benefit Guide, with reference documents, training, co-marketing and other resources to assist partners in building, selling and deploying cloud solutions.

“Partners would say IBM, you have a lot of resources but we don’t know where to find them,” said Mike Gerentine, vice-president of partner marketing for IBM. “We’ve collected them all in the portal, under the Benefit Guide.”

The cloud services mark is a new initiative to give IBM cloud and managed services partners who have completed training a way to market and identify themselves, similar to resellers have. Also new is the PartnerWorld SatScor, a free client satisfaction survey tool partners can use to get feedback from their clients, and hopefully acquire reference customers they can use to help drive marketing initiatives.

IBM is changing its PartnerWorld program criteria to make it easier for cloud-native partners to advance in the program, and has revamped the partner portal with an eye to usability and streamlined processes.

Rewarding partners for the skillsets they have and the value they’re delivering rather than the size of the deal resonates with James Alexander, senior vice-president with the Info-Tech Research Group.

“It’s going to encourage the right behaviour from partners,” said Alexander.

However, he added, it was notable that, when IBM channel chief Marc Dupaquier was asked about how partners will make the transition to this new value proposition, he began to talk about new partners coming in to fill the gap, rather than transitioning traditional IBM infrastructure partners.

“The problem with becoming ambidextrous is everything you write with your left hand will be unintelligible for a while,” said Alexander. “That’s the challenge when you try to wean people off years and years of resale, which pays the bills, while trying to transition to an annuity revenue stream.”

For ISVs, IBM on Tuesday launched the Power Development Platform. It’s an application development cloud that gives solution developers free access to IBM Power Systems servers to build, port and test applications.

And on the product front, IBM announced the FlashSystem V840 Enterprise Performance Solution, which is designed to directly integrate IBM’s virtualization software with the FlashSystem 840. It’s part of a new approach to date management that IBM has dubbed Software-Defined Flash.

“It will migrate from the enterprise class right down to the lower midmarket,” said Carl Boisevert, vice-president of global storage channel sales with IBM. “It’s probably a bit robust for the entry market, but clearly from the lower midmarket to the highest enterprise.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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