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If Sam Palmisano had just one word for partners, one word, it would probably
be "analytics." And he should know.

"I don’t bore myself anymore with market research," IBM’s
CEO told a packed auditorium of IBM
channel partners at the IBM PartnerWorld
conference in Orlando, Fla.,
this week. "The estimates will never be right."

Rather, Palmisano exhorted partners to innovate, and analytics is the most
important way to do that. It also offers a huge opportunity ahead for helping
customers to do that, too. Partners need to help customers build the
infrastructure with IBM technology. That’s
the way to the future, he said.

"For the first time IT is going to do real things. Not inventory control
and not payroll. IT will improve the quality of air and clean water systems,"
as well as the problems faced by so many cities today, he said.  "All
financial analysts can do is to take the past to predict the
future." But that’s not the way ahead.

"As I say to my children in grad school, look beyond the obvious," he

Palmisano’s remarks came after a successful year for IBM,
which is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is enjoying the notoriety of
having its supercomputer, Watson, compete on "Jeopardy!" this week, as well as ramping up the talk against competitors such as Oracle/Sun. IBM
Senior Vice President Rod Adkins, head of the IBM
Systems and Technology Group, said IBM had
won 1,500 competitive migrations in just the last year. And Palmisano pointed
to the success IBM has enjoyed even in the
midst of a recession that devastated most IT vendors.

On the software side, Senior Vice President Robert LeBlanc touted IBM’s
many software acquisitions over the last three years in a strategic push to
lead the field in analytics.

"The majority of data out there is not in structured databases," he
said. "There’s no such thing as that one database in the world that has
all the information. Clients live in a world of federation. What we need to
help clients with is to integrate and federate their information."

That’s the kind of business intelligence that Palmisano said will lead to IBM’s
future success and partners’ future success.

"2010 was a record year, 2009 was a record year. How? Why? To be truthful
about it, the decisions we made about eight years ago got us to this point.
We’ve had record years even in the difficult economic environment."

Part of what Palmisano was talking about was IBM’s
decision to sell the PC business back in 2004. While many wondered if it was a
misstep, IBM knew that PCs had become a
commodity, he said.

"In 2002 everybody in our industry was saying that it was just a bubble.
We said the industry was going to change. It wasn’t about the PC. It was about
smartphones and RFID tags."

And now a great deal of the focus is going to the cloud, leading to IBM’s announcement
around cloud specialties

While the cloud may intimidate some VARs, Palmisano offered these words: "If
you don’t innovate and move to the future, you won’t exist. … Business is tough,
and competition is ruthless and tough. If you don’t innovate and move to the
future, you won’t exist."