Mike Vizard

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Now that the new channel chief of IBMhas more than 100 days under his belt in the job, a relatively simple, yet profound, idea has started to take root.

Like most channel chiefs, Rich Hume realizes that the whole business relationship between vendors and solution providers is overly complex. Hume attributes much of this complexity to successive regimes of channel organizations that included too many people with MBA degrees that created a maze of processes designed to eliminate any potential possibility that a specific transaction might not be as profitable as possible or even fraudulent.

Hume’s cored idea is to assume that there is more than enough money in the channel for everyone to be profitable if only everybody could get out of each other’s way. Given IBM’s history as one of the more Byzantine companies in the channel, that idea represents some pretty radical thinking within the halls of Big Blue.

To back that up, Hume points to the recently launched New Enterprise Data Center initiative that is designed to make it easier for channel partners to sell products from multiple IBM divisions. He also notes that the company set up some rules of engagement for channel partners selling X-Series systems that will soon be broadened to apply to the entire IBMchannel.

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Hume’s next big step will be to make it a lot easier for IBM’s traditional base of hardware partners to resell any number of the software-as-a-service (SAAS) offerings that IBM has been steadily building. Those services include, for example, security offerings that have been developed by Internet Security Systems, the security-as-a-service unit that IBMacquired more than two years ago.

Hume and Joanne Olsen, IBM’s general manager for General Business, admit that IBM has been relatively slow to develop an effective channel around these organizations. But now Kristie Bell, vice president of the services channels and GTS Midmarket Services Offerings, has been charged with creating a formal channel program around IBMsoftware services.

Hume knows that IBM’s software channel has never been that strong and that hardware resellers have had a hard time justifying the expense associated with training the people who would be needed to create an effective practice around IBM software. But given the fact that SAAS is significantly easier to install at the customer’s site, Hume sees a major opportunity for IBM’s traditional hardware resellers to make additional profit by reselling turnkey software services from IBM. The challenge that Olsen sees is that IBMneeds to educate enough partners about how profitable it can be to resell those turnkey services.

All of these efforts are part of an overall effort to introduce what Hume calls “dramatic simplicity” into the IBM channel. What makes this more than the usual new channel chief bluster is the fact that Hume has been in and around IBM channels in the Power systems and former PC groups for more than 20 years. Once more, he says he is personally committed to staying in the role of IBMchannel chief much longer than any of his three predecessors—Ravi Marwaha, Donn Atkins and Mike Borman–did, each of whom lasted less than two years.

Given the fact that it will take a lot more than two years to unravel 20 years of IBM complexity in the channel, that kind of commitment from a single empowered channel chief at IBMis exactly what’s going to be required.

Michael Vizard is a member of the Ziff Davis Enterprise
market experts group and a regular columnist for Channel Insider.