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During Channel Insider’s recent interview with WebSphere General Manager Craig Hayman, he told us IBM tapped a group of a select software partners to provide feedback and build out products that enhanced WebSphere Version 7. AmberPoint was one of the companies on Hayman’s very short list. In this Q&A with AmberPoint’s chief marketing officer Ed Horst, Channel Insider takes a deeper look at the key moves the company made to forge the relationship successfully.  Horst also gives some tips for companies looking to navigate Big Blue.

What does AmberPoint do?

AmberPoint makes software products that manage and govern complex applications. The distributed nature of today’s enterprise applications makes it much more difficult to ensure that the system is performing as it should—that applications and their components meet service level agreements and that transactions complete properly.  AmberPoint helps companies address these needs by monitoring composite applications end-to-end across all the components and platforms participating in the system, and by tracking each transaction flowing across the environment. This enables our customers to reliably use distributed applications, like SOA and Cloud-based systems, for business-critical purposes.

What is your relationship with IBM?
We have a multi-faceted relationship with IBM, one that extends to several product teams.  We have many shared customers with IBM and that has obviously been a big help in driving our partnership and the integration of our respective solutions.  Officially, we’re part of the IBM PartnerWorld program.

You were recently called out by Craig Hayman, GM for WebSphere, as "one of the key development partners in the release of WebSphere 7.” What was your role with the launch of WS7?
We’ve worked to ensure that our application management capabilities work just as well with the new line of WebSphere 7 products. This ensures that distributed application management is available for dedicated WebSphere 7 environments and heterogeneous environments that include WebSphere 7.

It can be difficult for smaller software companies to make a name for themselves at IBM. How did you get into that select group of partners?
A couple of things come to mind here.  For starters, we picked a very challenging problem to tackle, one that was a recognized ‘white space’ in the IBM technology stack.  Managing these distributed, heterogeneous, evolving applications is no walk in the park.  So we fill a need for IBM, just as we do for the other platform partners with which we work.  Secondly, our product integration efforts were expedited by the requirements of shared customers.  For instance, earlier this year we added support for IBM WebSphere DataPower appliance based on significant demand from joint customers. These customer requirements draw the attention of IBM executives just as they do ours.

Was this a quick thing? How long have you been working with them?

We have had a relationship with IBM and have been members in PartnerWorld since we first launched our company in 2002.  In fact, we were Charter members of the Web services on WebSphere Advisory Council.  Through the years we have been members of IBM Web services Council in both the U.S. and EMEA, a member of their Autonomic Computing Partner Program as well as members of their Industry Vertical Network solutions, including telco, financial services, insurance and government. Since then, we’ve steadily evolved our alliance with IBM as the market and the products have matured and advanced.  We now work with several IBM product groups and continue our worldwide reseller relationship with IBM Global Services. 

What would you say are the cornerstones of a successful IBM partnership for companies like yourselves, regardless of industry?
Two things come to mind — find a sustainable technology whitespace in IBM’s offering and maintain deep support for IBM’s platform.  That said, ultimately it comes down to customers. Working with an organization as large as IBM, you could have great discussions, do quite a lot of co-marketing and build out your product set for the IBM stack, but if you don’t have customers helping to move the partnership forward, well, you’ll find things move very slowly.  We feel fortunate that we’ve had good traction with some very large and high-profile customers who have gotten the ear of our counterparts at IBM and with IBM Global Services, as that has helped to elevate our status with IBM. 

It can be difficult for software partners to navigate IBM just because of its sheer enormity. How did you do that?
There’s some diligence involved there.  We made it a corporate priority to focus on IBM as a strategic partner. We made the relationship a focus in all areas of the company – executive relationships, engineering, marketing and sales. We interface with a number of product teams at IBM, so there’s a bit of a challenge in navigating the waters with such a large partner.  But I think IBM does a pretty good job of helping companies like ours to work with their organization.

Does your relationship go beyond the WebSphere group into other parts of IBM?
Yes. Within the WebSphere group, we work with the app server guys, the ESB team, IBM MQ, the WebSphere Registry and Repository team and the DataPower people.  So already just within WebSphere there are a lot of different dialogues.  On top of that, we talk with IBM Tivoli teams, as we integrate our management and governance solutions with Tivoli Enterprise Console and Access Manager.  And we support DB2 as one of our key supported databases.

Would you say IBM is an influencer in a large percentage of your deals or are they the driver?

Where IBM plays, they play big.  Our joint accounts with IBM are typically very large, well known companies that are making a strategic decision in using IBM’s products.  Our products help round out the solution for the customer.  And give them a way to include whatever non-IBM products they may have.
What’s the biggest impact IBM has on your business?
It’s very rare we work with a customer that doesn’t have some IBM components participating in their distributed applications.  They play a role in close to 50% of all our customers.

What are some of the drawbacks to working through IBM?

IBM is a big enough company that it’s almost impossible not to compete with some aspect of it.  But to their credit, IBM has consistently proven to be good at “co-opetition.”  I suppose they’re quite used to that dynamic at this point, so any conflicts don’t necessarily prevent business from taking place when good joint-opportunities might arise.

What kind of co-marketing and lead generation activities have you done?
We have focused on key customer success stories – ones that benefit both IBM and AmberPoint.  And we’ve had very good success at IBM-specific conferences such as IMPACT. 

Were they successful? Why?
Customer successes are always some of the most interesting material for other companies.  There’s a point where companies stop listening to vendors explaining their potential and prefer to listen instead to what has actually worked in real-life settings.  Customer success stories provide this.

What are some of your other partners and how are those relationships different than your partnership with IBM?

As a management vendor, we’re sort of obliged to work with all the leading platforms.  This is toward our goal of providing an end-to-end view of the application environment, no matter what’s participating in the environment or what it’s running on.  So we work very closely with Microsoft, SAP, TIBCO, Oracle, Red Hat and others.

Do you have any tips or additional recommendations for other software companies looking to forge a close relationship with IBM?

Find a ‘white space’ in IBM’s stack, make the relationship a corporate priority in all departments, provide deep support of the IBM stack and don’t stop working the relationship. But, most of all, focus on customer success.  All companies involved benefit from this – the customer and the vendors.