Mixed Reactions From Down South

IBM says Lotus allies need not worry about changes to partner program.

IBMs software group continues to stumble, but Lotus solutions providers are worried about taking their own fall. Specifically, Lotus partners fear that they may lose some of their benefits when its partner program is folded into IBMs PartnerWorld for Software program.

The software group was IBMs weakest performer in an otherwise fantastic Q4. Big Blues software sales actually fell 1 percent during the period.

While many Lotus partners welcome closer ties to IBM, some partners are nervous about the strategy, said attendees at last weeks Lotusphere in Orlando, Fla.

Folding Lotuss partnership program into IBM is an ongoing effort, says Andrea Roman, senior director of strategy and operations for Lotuss partner organization.

But, some of Lotuss Premier Partners are worried they might lose ground under the new setup. "Were hoping that we can remain a Premier Partner, and that we can still work with the same people at Lotus," says Ilan Tsafunat, president of Team Technologies.

Another partner, who asked not to be identified, contends that IBMs partner requirements may raise the bar for smaller companies.

But IBM executives say there is nothing to worry about. "I dont know why people would be concerned about being able to remain Premier Partners, because the criteria really havent changed very much," says Dan Albertson, director of IBMs Partner World for Software program.

According to recent program changes, Premier Partners now must hold certification as an e-business adviser, a reimbursable sales certification. And they must hold a minimum of three technical certifications, as well.

The additional certification was added after IBM spoke to 500 IBM and Lotus partners. "The partners we talked to agreed that, to be Premier, a partner must be very knowledgeable about e-business," says Albertson, adding that all IBM and Lotus Premier Partners already should have been assigned a regional sales representative.

"Our intention is not to reduce anything. It is to take the best from both partner programs and put them together," he says.

While some partners may be cautious, others are optimistic. Daniel Nashed, president of Nash!Com Communication Systems, says the merged programs will provide Lotus partners with greater access to the bigger pool of IBM Business Partners.

In addition, Rick Muller, president and general manager of Inergix, says the "consolidated" certification program will be easier for customers to comprehend.

For Ziv Kenet of Paragon Bermuda, the changes are crucial. "I dont think all the partners are getting it," Kenet says. "Its about relationships. The partners should be networking with IBM now, as well as Lotus."

Sounds logical.