Good Ideas Come from
Partners"> Increasingly, IBMs partners will be the ones cultivating that ecosystem. "Thats where so much of the innovation in the market comes from," said Scott Hebner, vice president of marketing and business partner programs in IBMs software group. "Its rarely the big guys. Its the guys who have a focus, who understand the industries they work in."RJS Software Systems, a business information management VAR that worked frequently with insurance companies, was able to leverage its business knowledge to streamline customer service operations at AAA Carolinas, an American Automobile Association affiliate and insurance provider in North and South Carolina.The problem: increasing competition for insurance customers from giants such as Geico and Progressive. AAA Carolinas found its customer service operation was too cumbersome to be competitive. "In insurance, its all about $5," said Bill Whalen, sales and marketing manager at RJS, based in Burnsville, Minn. "You dont really care where its from: If its $5 cheaper across the street, thats where youre going. So we had to find a way to streamline costs in a way that could pass savings on to customers." Together with IBM, RJS constructed a paperless office on IBMs iSeries platform that allowed customer service and sales representatives to access information more rapidly. The speedier delivery allowed AAA Carolinas to service customers and sign new ones 23 percent faster. The company saved $20,000 annually on filing cabinets alone. Partly as a result of its success with AAA Carolinas, RJS launched an Information Management for Insurance practice and has reapplied the solution to other insurers. Hebner said that by allowing partners such as RJS to access IBMs labsaccess that customers have had for more than a yeartheres the potential to "blow open the door on innovation." Under IBMs PartnerWorld Industry Networks program, which organizes ISVs and solutions providers into 14 industry categories (including the yet-to-be-announced Electronics and Energy and Utilities categories), partners will gain access one by one for consultation on industry solutions, in an order yet to be determined, said Hebner. In these consultations, partners in specific industries will be able to consult with IBM researchers working on similar solutions targeted for release three to five years in the future. How successful IBM is at distributing its researchers remains to be seen. The company did not identify any U.S. partners that had participated in a pilot for the program but cited the experience of Beijing-based eFuture Information Technology, which developed a supply chain management program based on the collaboration and helped YanSha, a Chinese department store, morph into an online supply chain company. The ability to innovate is driven in large part by the on-demand trend that allows customers to reach technology previously out of reach of their budgets, as well as by the proliferation of the Internet worldwide, said IBMs Wladawsky-Berger. IBM makes selling software more lucrative for channel partners. Click here to read more. Before the rise of such technologies as SOAs (service-oriented architectures) and Web services to deliver many of these applications, the companys talk of an innovation ecosystem could be viewed as academic, he said. "All of a sudden, IT has the ability to touch companies in ways it never has and businesses it never did before," said Wladawsky-Berger. If IBM pulls off its plan, there may be more success stories such as those found at Vassar Brothers, since partners such as InnerWireless would have more access to IBM research. In 2003, Health Quest reached out to IBM, which connected the hospital chain with InnerWireless. The hospital now delivers medication shrink-wrapped and with bar codes; doctors, nurses and patients communicate with VOIP (voice over IP) wireless phones and PDAs; and equipment traffic is managed like air traffic, Christiano said. The solution has already saved Health Quest thousands of dollars in equipment expenditures, and administrators have documented 168 cases since July where the system protected patients from receiving incorrect medications, two of which might have been fatal. "We imagined an assembly line," Christiano said. "We ended up with a safer hospital." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.