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BMC Software has updated its Partner Network Program to encourage partners to invest in business service management expertise by providing a new certification for IT Service Management, improved product demonstration capabilities and early access to new products.

BSM promises resellers a lucrative opportunity. Forrester Research predicts that the SLM (service-level management)/BSM market will grow 23 percent from $382 million worldwide in 2006 to $470 million in 2007. In 2005, IT software revenues from the segment were $332 million, the market research company found.

However, to succeed and thrive in this market, solution providers need very specific help from vendor partners. “As a vendor selling complex products, it is necessary to make sure unequivocally that partners are enabled from a sales perspective (including pre-sales activity), that they have implementation skills and that they have post support skills,” said Paul Edwards, an analyst with IDC. “Enablement across those key areas has been extremely important and BMC has been [steadily] improving their approach with partners.”

To this end, BMC is focusing its resources to help dedicated partners grow. The company has reduced the number of partners in the program, which offers Elite, Premier and Member levels, from 600 to 400.

BMC has added an ITSM Certification to its existing BSM certification, said Lori Cook, vice president of worldwide professional services and channels at BMC Software, in Houston.

“Certification is key,” said Edwards. “It is important for BMC to understand which partners will commit to getting required practice levels and important for customers to be able to identify partners that have the ready skill sets required to understand their business issues and how these solutions address those.”

Partners are enthusiastic and report that certification does provide an edge. “The certification is going to be important to us in showing our customers a commitment to BSM,” said Jeff Cerny, national marketing director at generationE Technologies, a BMC Premier partner in Oakbrook, Ill. A majority of its consultants and some of its sales people have achieved the ITIL certification and the solution provider intends to pursue the new certification as well, he added.

Click here to read more about BMC’s BSM initiative.

BMC also promises that its subcontracting activities will favor partners who have achieved these certifications. “Today, we subcontract half of the average engagement,” Cook said. “My intention is to work with certified partners because that allows me to lead with much more confidence about what they can deliver.”

With these program enhancements, BMC has also extended and renewed its commitment to training. BMC created a five week long intensive technical training with an additional two-week track in a specific area. The company has taught the class three times so far.

“At our partner’s request, I took our best consultants and pulled them out of billable engagements, put them into a room and built technical implementation training that is the identical education we give our own services team,” said Cook. “Our partners are really excited about making a commitment to acquiring skills.”

In addition, BMC formed a partner’s consortium of its top partners to open the lines of communication about best practices and product directions between partners worldwide, said Cook. “The consortium has been the most valuable thing in terms of keeping us on track with BMC,” said Cerny. “It helps us develop a go-to-market strategy and lets us meet with BMC executives and other partners and find a synergy.”

BMC has also expanded the capabilities of its Flight Deck online demo, which was introduced last year to give partners a customizable and integrated demonstration of BSM to partners. “Flight Deck has been very valuable to us,” said Cerny. “We’ve done over 20 demos and it’s proved to be an effective way to approach the customer.”

In its newest iteration, Flight Deck adds additional demonstrations for Elite partners and allows Elite partners to create and store demonstrations of vertical market BSM solutions that they’ve created on the site for easy access. “Initially, we put it all on a CD, but storage requirements on laptops were becoming problematic,” said Cook. “Now, all the partner needs is the Internet and 10 minutes notice and they can deliver a demonstration. There’s also a framework that they can populate with customer data.”

In a move counter to common practice, BMC has also launched its Early Access Program, which invites its partners into the software development process. “You usually see this type of program with ISV partners to allow them early access to applications,” said Edwards. “It is an interesting idea to give VARs this kind of exposure to a product prior to launch. It shows a level of commitment in supporting those partners and the value they bring to the business.”

The beta program provides a beta environment to allow partners to work with pre-release products and provide feedback and input. “This program has resulted in direct changes to what we are releasing, both what is included and scheduling,” said Cook.