IBM Looks to Give Partners an Edge

New program will enable business partners to swap ideas and glean insights into industry knowledge and trends.

IBM on Monday unveiled a new program to help business partners—i.e., those vendors that distribute or incorporate IBM software technology into their own offerings—swap ideas and glean insights into industry knowledge and trends.

Dubbed Insight Exchange, the program is open to both current and prospective IBM partners. It will use Webcasts, online chats, in-person presentations, face-to-face mentoring, seminars and discussion groups to bring partners together with IBM scientists, developers and senior executives, as well as with non-IBM experts.

The program will feature three tracks. The first, the Business track, is aimed at business owners and executives and will feature discussion groups on topics related to human resources, sales and marketing, finance, strategic planning, and applying IT. Participation for the Business track is by invitation only.

The Technology track is designed for a technical audience, and the Opportunity Track is designed for marketing professionals. Both will be delivered via monthly Webcasts, event speakers and online chats.

The initiative was launched by IBMs Data Management group and is part of IBMs $1 billion effort to give the companys business partners more resources to crack the small and midsized business market—a market that global IT market research firm Access Markets International Partners Inc. pegs at $300 billion. IBM officials said the program is expected to further propagate IBMs middleware in the marketplace and instill additional loyalty within partners.

"Partners are looking to IBM to make a market for them," said Gary Scheider, director of Data Management Channels and Services for IBM, in Somers, N.Y. "Thats especially true in the small and midsized business market. We have to make sure were catering to the needs of local solutions partners."

The program will kick off on Feb. 13 with a Webcast by Steve Mills, senior IBM vice president and group executive, IBM Software Group, who will speak about creating market opportunities by recognizing trends and customer demand. The first Technology track will start on Feb. 21 with a presentation by Irving Wladwasky-Berger, IBMs vice president of technology and strategy, who will talk about grid computing, federated data management and e-business on demand.

Scheider said partners are responding well to the idea of a partner program where they wont have a given vendors—IBMs, in this case—products constantly shoved down their throats. "Theyre asking me, Are you really going to do this for me? Youre going to treat me like a partner and not try to sell me product? I say, Yes, and they say, Really!"

Michael James, vice president of marketing for S&P Solutions Inc., an IT consultancy and IBM business partner in Cleveland, concurs. "Its more impressive to have people from outside IBM [speaking]," he said. "Me, I can get plenty of sales spiels. All I have to do is go on a Webcast and get that. This allows me an opportunity to hear somebody from outside talk about things that dont necessarily have anything to do with IBM. … Were also partners with Microsoft [Corp.] and Oracle [Corp.], and they have nothing like this. Whoevers speaking to you at any event typically has already drunk the Koolaid."