IBM Channel Partners to Sell New Mid-Market BI Software

Big Blue unveils its first business intelligence and analytics software for mid-sized companies.

September 16, 2009

D.H. Kass

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IBM Corp. has unwrapped its first business intelligence and analytics software built for mid-sized companies and endorsed a core group of channel partners to sell and support it.

The vendor’s announcement of the product—called IBM Cognos Express—and corresponding channel strategy was buoyed by favorable findings released late last week from its own study of 2,500 CIOs worldwide. The results revealed that 83 percent of midmarket executives view business intelligence and analytics tools—which help with planning, analyzing and decision-making--as vital to improving their ability to compete.

The Express software melds the analytics, reporting, and planning of the enterprise versions of Cognos into a single offering aimed specifically at the mid-market. It can fit into a company’s existing IT infrastructure and accommodate new capabilities as business requirements change over time. The package carries an entry price of about $12,500.

In designating resellers as the primary sales avenue for the Express solution, the vendor--which acquired Cognos late in 2007 for about $5 billion--is departing from its previous practice of not allowing channel partners to sell Cognos products without an IBM presence.

“The partner strategy that we are embarking on is unique for Cognos,” said Ben Plummer, general manager, IBM Cognos mid-market business unit. “While we’ve embraced our partners, it has mainly been in a joint sale. But with IBM Cognos Express we decided to break that model and take the product to market primarily through partners.”

Plummer said that IBM has mobilized a group of 360 existing Cognos channel partners worldwide that are already trained and certified to sell and support the product. Partners must maintain at least three certified technicians to qualify.

The vendor expects that in a year its ranks of channel partners selling the product will swell to more than 1,000 participants, Plummer said.

Additional partners will be gleaned from IBM’s general business midmarket resellers—including some already partaking in the vendor’s Express Advantage program--supplemented by a small group of technically proficient solution providers associated with Applix Inc., a developer Cognos bought immediately prior to its own acquisition by IBM.

'We are serious about this'

While IBM has not ceded the entire sales opportunity for the Express product to its channel partners, it will largely confine its direct selling efforts to departments in enterprise accounts where it already maintains a presence, Plummer said.

Plummer estimated that IBM’s current channel lineup for the Express product will generate about 60 percent of its sales. The vendor’s goal is for the channel to produce upwards of 85 percent of the product’s sales, he said.

He said that IBM has extended itself to “convince partners that we are serious about this. We have briefed every partner on how we are depending on them.”

Plummer said that 18 months ago IBM initiated discussions with partners on the development of the Express product—itself two years in the making--and the proposed sales model. “We established a global advisory board around the product line within three to four months of the decision to go ahead with it,” he said.

To assist resellers to prepare for the product release, IBM established a “single point of contact for training, education and certification for the entire partner community,” he said.

IBM gave partners early access to the Express product and they “responded by familiarizing themselves with the technology and giving us feedback as quickly as they could,” Plummer said. “With the types of customers we’re going after, their relationships are with partners and we had to make sure we had good feedback from the channel on the selling model and the technology.”

One reseller praised the product for benefits it affords mid-market clients.

“IBM Cognos Express represents a terrific opportunity to help us provide our clients with a no-nonsense solution that will allow business leaders to make truly informed decisions based on data and not simply gut feel,” said Neil Morgan, president of BrightStar Partners, a Chicago, IL-based IBM Business Partner that worked with the vendor on an initial installation of the Express product.

Partners are responsible for supporting the Express product and IBM will provide in-house assistance in the form of sales leads, pre-sales support and technical assistance. The vendor will team with channel partners in most geographies in a consulting capacity, although “we are not trying to establish a competing consulting practice,” Plummer said.

“Our belief is that partners will take on the full gamut of the sales cycle,” he said. “But we want to make sure we provide a safety net, a conduit within IBM to partners. We have thousands of inside telesales resources that will work hand-in-hand with partners.”

Customers will be able to test drive the product before buying it during an evaluation period, Plummer said. He suggested that could ease the sales process for channel partners.

TAGS: IBM,business intelligence,Enterprise,channel partners,midmarket

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