Wireless Hits the Big League

IBM looks to partners as a central piece of its new wireless strategy.

In a sweeping move to get wireless technology off the bench and onto the field, IBM Corp. is calling on its solutions provider partners to take the plunge, as the company pushes forward with a wireless strategy tied to an aggressive training and certification program.

About 18 months ago, wireless e-commerce was the hot button touted by a host of Web integration companies. Although some players like Agency.com and Razorfish developed wireless solutions for customers on a pilot basis, the hype lost traction after the crash of the dot-com sector and as companies pulled back on IT spending.

But all the while, IBM has been working on wireless research through its Pervasive Computing Group unit and its European arm, which is neck deep in wireless. Last week, the company unleashed a broad offering of wireless products and services that will need the help of its partners to get off the ground.

The companys European arm will help design training courseware and will work on solutions for IBMs wireless strategy. The new Certified e-Business for Wireless training program within the PartnerWorld Program is expected to go live within 10 days, says Val Rahmani, general manager of Global Wireless Solutions. The formal certification process will kick into gear by Q3.

Forget the Hype "Last year, you saw a lot of hype [around wireless]; much of the initial hype has died down. For wireless, we need our top partner community," says Rahmani, adding that partners like Andersen, the firm formerly known as Arthur Andersen, is training about 3,000 consultants to build wireless solutions.

In calling on solutions providers to be part of its wireless strategy, IBM executives are looking for solutions that plug into its WebSphere Everyplace Suite. Executives last week announced a series of new wireless-enabled hardware and software along with new partnerships. The hardware includes dual antennas in the screens of its ThinkPad A series, which will have integrated support for 802.11 wireless LANs.

Get Ready IBM executives repeat the importance of solutions partners to be properly trained in order for IBMs wireless strategy to take off. "Business partners are a very important part of everything we do at IBM," says Peter Rowley, general manager of IBMs Global Business Partners. He says partners account for one-third, or $28 billion, of IBMs revenue.

"Wireless is coming very, very quickly. We need to get this message to our partners to make sure they are ready when their customers need them to be," says Rowley. "Where they [solutions providers] need help is in the [wireless] implementation. The implementation is where the money is made or lost."

In calling out to partners, Rowley, however, is not playing favorites. He is calling on both traditional solutions providers and consultants, Web integrators, ISPs, and XSPs to adopt wireless into their portfolio. "As you have seen in the marketplace, some of our competitors have moved their attention away from the traditional business partner to these new forms of partners," he says. "And, we believe that both forms of partners are very important for providing a total solution for the customer."

Business Sense In addition, Rowley says that the company also has rolled out version two of its IBM Business Partner Charter, a commitment to back up its partners. The new charter extends to evolving xSPs.

"We also recognize that the marketplace has changed, and there are a lot of new forms of partners in the marketplace to resell our products or to influence our products at the point of sale in front of the customer," he says.

Other announcements included remote wireless management technology for IBMs eServer line and a wireless infrastructure service called "Instant Wireless LAN," rolled out by IBM Global Services to ramp up companies on wireless. That service will be executed with the help of solutions providers like CompuCom Systems.

Solutions providers say that IBMs appeal to partners to get up to speed on wireless technology and create wireless solutions makes business sense.

"IBM is on the right track. Partners have to learn to implement and sell the technology if they want to widen their solution offerings," says Dan Elliott, VP of Mobile Business Solutions at CompuCom.

CompuCom currently is working with IBM Global Services to do assessments for customers that want to do a 30-day pilot under the "Instant Wireless LAN" program.

Making the ROI case for wireless is an approach taken by Andersen, says David Bitner, head of Andersens Partner Alliances. "Companies are looking for ways to cut costs. We have been helping them to do the math around that," he says.