There will be stiff competition IBMs PartnerWorld conference in Atlanta this week. The twist: Most of the competition will be between IBMs own managers, as they vie to get face time with potential partners.
"Its hard to have a single program that fits everyone. So underneath the framework of the IBM PartnerWorld program, each group ties in with its own version," says Frank Vitigliano, VP of distribution channels management for IBMs Personal Computing Division (formerly called the Personal Systems Group).
Each division has a slightly different approach to partnering. IBM Software, for example, recruits extensively among outside ISVs and software solutions providers, especially in light of Big Blues decision about a year ago to stop competing directly in the applications market. That has led to close alliances with PeopleSoft and Siebel, among other companies.
Shake On It IBM will use PartnerWorld to unveil new allies that support WebSphere Commerce Suite. Anticipated partners include Web Emporium, Eviciti, MCBA, Enterpulse and Rare Medium.
Each of these services companies is building solutions for such vertical markets as manufacturing, distribution, health care, retail, financial services and entertainment.
Additional partnerships are being rolled out this week around IBMs newly launched content management offering.
IBMs Personal Computing Division (PCD) also will have a busy schedule at the conference. "Ive got to compete with the Dells and HPs of this world," Vitigliano notes. In response, PCD has moved to a "one Web-based" pricing model. Smaller VARs, previously required to buy PCs through distributors, now can purchase the hardware online.
"When youre selling direct to end-customers over the Web, the Web choice becomes very visible," Vitigliano adds.
VARs can still choose to buy from distributors. End customers, meanwhile, can buy direct, through VARs, or by mail- order.
"It can be difficult to manage a hybrid program like this," concedes Vitigliano. "We need to keep making sure partners understand how customers in various segments want to buy."
For IBMs new I-Series machines, previously known as AS/400 servers, partnerships are all the more consuming. "Our mission is to include partners in every sale," says Mark Angelino, who heads up sales for IBMs Server Division.
As a result, the Server Division has even made a change to the Lotus Notes-based order form used by its salespeople. "Now, a salesperson cant put an order through without including a name in the partner field," Angelino says.
I-Series servers are bought mainly by two groups of customers: Mid-market businesses with revenues in the $50 million to $100 million bracket; and large enterprises. On the bigger sales, partners often work in tandem with IBMs inside sales staff.
The Server Division is making changes on the product side, too. Due to the growing complexity of IBMs installed base, the I-Series servers are embracing both Windows NT and Linux, says Angelino.
Down the road, IBM is planning logical partitioning for Linux apps running on I-Servers, says Angelino.
Storing It IBMs Storage Systems Division, recently spun out from the Server Group, must take market share from EMC, among others. Bob Sampson, the divisions VP of worldwide sales and operations, sees an expansive picture ahead for Big Blue and its storage allies.
IBM knows it needs to strike before many of its rivals can learn from their mistakes in the storage market. Sun Microsystems storage push, for instance, isnt going well, according to a report issued last week by Merrill Lynch.
Partners could give IBM the upper hand in the storage market. Big Blues allies currently generate about 45 percent of the Storage System Divisions revenue, and Sampson predicts this figure will continue to increase for the next few years. "We have the opportunity of a lifetime to help drive what I think will be one of the most important changes the industry has ever witnessed," he says. "Partners give us more arrows in our quivers, so were creating more resources to support them."
For instance, IBM is rolling out a storage certification program that categorizes partners by both product domain and storage domain.
To help keep partners skills up to speed, the Storage Systems Division now rewards qualified partners by paying for portions of their data-center leases. In some cases, the company even offers financial assistance, so a customer can afford to pay for skilled IT managers.
"You can say what you want to about IBM. But one thing IBM does fairly well is to partner," says John Madden, IT analyst for Summit Strategies.