IBM Rallies Partners to Smarter Planet, Launches Social Network

Palmisano urges Big Blue partners to help customers “save money, preserve capital and reduce costs."

Speaking at IBM’s initial online Business Partner Leadership Agenda, Sam Palmisano, Big Blue’s chairman and chief executive, urged an audience of thousands of the vendor’s channel partners to engage its Smarter Planet initiative particularly with “those clients who are seizing this opportunity to explore new possibilities and make strategic investments for growth that play into our vision for a smarter planet.”

Palmisano told channel partners worldwide that in the current economic climate customers want to “save money, preserve capital and reduce costs. With your partnership we help them do that.”

He described IBM’s Smarter Planet go-to-market strategy as the channel’s opportunity to “engage clients of all sizes in higher value discussions by focusing on the entire enterprise and act as a true consultant.”

In recent months, Palmisano repeatedly has reached out to the vendor’s reseller base, only two months ago building on a rewrite on the company’s channel partner charter to stir interest and participation in its vision of an IT-enabled world. By its own measure, IBM has poured some $2.5B into programs, education and services to help transition channel partners into the fold.

The latest communications platform--intended as a cost-effective, online replacement for live PartnerWorld events--enables the vendor to tap into a large audience of business partners to deliver succinct, targeted information on its IT strategy and clearly articulate ways for channel partners to deliver so-called “smart solutions.”

IBM is pressing partner collaboration—citing statistics from researcher International Data Corp. that suggests partners who team with one another generate more sales--as vital to providing innovative solutions to address what it calls “smart infrastructure opportunities.” This is seen, for example, in joint go-to-market strategies among multiple partners.

Central to that effort is IBM’s development of a new Web 2.0 online vehicle, called PartnerWorld Communities, intended to foster collaboration among channel partners, said Tim McChristian, IBM vice president of worldwide channel sales.

“Few partners have the capacity to deliver the complexity of solutions required today on their own,” McChristian said. “Most require some level of collaboration.”

McChristian said that PartnerWorld Communities germinated from a series of idea exchanges—IBM internally called the sessions “partner jams”--with 1,100 channel members that occurred over a 10-day period.

“In some cases, we assigned executive owners to give real time feedback to partners as information was coming in,” he said. “At the end of it, we accumulated five to ten of the most popular topics and prioritized them. We received feedback on incentives, marketing, technical help and those sorts of things. The need for an online forum came out of that.”

McChristian said that PartnerWorld Communities serves as a conduit to allow collaboration over a secure network, enabling blogging, forums, private teaming spaces for solution design and marketing, social bookmarking and RSS feeds for real-time access to topics of interest.

Migration challenges

The vendor has also rolled out a new education and networking forum called the Business Partner Development Series to connect partners on skill building. It is offering 60 free online classes on topics such as selling to CFOs, selling to the mid-market, green technology, virtualization, security, business resilience, service management, asset management and how to demonstrate ROI to clients.

“We’re laying out a roadmap to our partners to show them how to get at incremental spending with IBM,” McChristian said, referring to the availability of federal government stimulus money.

IBM faces some challenges to migrate channel partners to its Smarter Planet strategy and world view, especially when considering the wide range of technical expertise, knowledge and implementation skills presented by its 100,000-strong reseller network.

Charles King, principal analyst at researcher Pund-IT Inc., pointed to the enormity of IBM’s undertaking, both from a strategic and tactical standpoint.

“The practical issues around Smarter Planet—increasing the use and prevalence of embedded IT--is going to require an order of magnitude difference in the way people approach and manage technology,” King said.

“Purely from a technological standpoint, partners that work with IBM need to be prepared for that,” he said. “It’s going to create business opportunities and also levels of business technology that most people can’t get their heads around yet. But IBM has been good at and successful with the way it helps partner organizations stay on the same page.”

At the Business Partner Leadership Agenda presentation, IBM also announced 22 winners of its annual Beacon Awards for delivery of value to clients and innovative approaches to solving business issues. Winners were chosen from 350 nominations and presented in seven categories, including Mid-Market, Industry and ISV Solutions, Dynamic Infrastructure Solutions, Platform Solutions, Services Solutions, Software Solutions and Technical Services.

TAGS: services,IBM,social networking,virtualization,channel partners

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