Big Blue welcomed attendees to its annual Partnerworld event on Monday with a bevy of announcements aimed at making it easier to work with IBM, easier to deliver IBM products and services to clients, and easier to partner with fellow systems integrators and solution providers, particularly in the SMB space.
Noting that IBM is investing US$6 billion annually in partner programs, and has invested some US$28 billion since 2001, Ravi Marwaha, general manager, global business partners, said IBM is committed to investing in its channel partners. “It’s been a priority for us before, but never like this,” said Marwaha. “We are serious about simplifying your business with us.”
A major new area of investment for IBM is around social networking and Web 2.0 technologies, with the launch of three new initiatives Monday, all of which are available immediately. Marwaha said IBM views collaboration amongst business partners as key to capitalizing on the SMB market opportunity.
“The mid-market is a very fast growing market, and solutions within it represent a very big part of what we see as the growth opportunity for IBM,” said Marwaha.
Described as a platform for enterprise social software, Lotus Connections for Partners will be a secure online environment for partners to share profile information and best practices, and also to find new business partners with needed subject area expertise for joint business ventures.
Also new is IBM developerWorks community spaces, a technical resource for partners and developers with community-moderated subject areas featuring best practices and educational materials supplied by both IBM and community members in a range of subject areas.
As well, IBM has expanded its PartnerWorld Industry Networks program, adding a Valuenet Connections section to help drive partner collaboration.
Chris Wong, vice-president, strategy and marketing with IBM developer relations, said social networking is something that started on the consumer level and is just now starting to migrate into the business context.
“I think the whole social networking idea is really a journey, and this is the first step in that journey,” said Wong. “The commercial value of bringing our partners together around opportunity is important.” The vendor also announced the roll-out of its Express Advantage program for partners selling to midmarket companies in 23 new countries, as well as new systems, software and services targeted at the midmarket.
In the server space IBM System i 515 Express and IBM System i 525 Express have beed added to the Express offerings, with IBM System Storage TS2340 Tape Drive Express Model added in the storage area and IBM Lotus Complete Messaging Express Starter Pack and IBM Lotus Complete Collaboration Express Starter Pack added on the software side.
As well, new tools for partners launched as part of Express Advantage include enhanced Solutions Builder Express starting points and an enhanced Solutions Consultant Express Tool. IBM has also created a new Business Continuity specialty offering for partners.
While admitting IBM can be a complex company to work with, Marc Lautenbach, general manager, IBM Americas, said he thinks that complexity speaks to the breadth of solutions Big Blue has to offer. With clients wanting to get more of their IT needs filled by fewer vendors, that breadth can be an advantage, he believes.
Still, Lautenbach said IBM is committed to tackling some of that complexity, although not in a way that would disrupt the business models of its partners.
“We have been steadfast, we’ve been boring, and we’ve been consistent, but it’s because we’re committed to you,” he said.
Examining the IT landscape Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive for the IBM software group, said labour spend, legacy applications and legacy infrastructure are the biggest factors driving customer IT-related decision-making today. “Everything we do going forward has to be in the context of that customer environment.”
The key, said Mills, is to keep IT tied to the pace of business. IT can’t be allowed to constrain business opportunity, he said, adding we’re now in an era that is business driven, not technology driven.
“The customers are in command and it’s not about gadgetry, it’s about value,” said Mills. “They’ve grown –up and so we have to be grown-up. It’s no longer about selling one thing. It’s about selling total capability in concert.”