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IBM CEO Sam Palmisano called on its partners worldwide to participate in the company’s Smarter Planet initiative during the launch of a new Business Partner Leadership Agenda series of online events.

Intended as a replacement for this year’s PartnerWorld live events, the new series is part of an overall effort to reach out to channel partners using online resources that don’t require business partners to travel. As part of that effort, IBM is also launching an online community for its channel partners through which partners can not only access IBM personnel, but also share knowledge with each other.

According to IBM channel chief Rich Hume, IBM is trying to find more efficient ways to communicate with partners as part of an effort to get partners to lead with business solutions that use technology to fundamentally change a customer’s business process.

Palmisano said Smarter Planet is the “most profound, unifying, exciting and expansive strategy we’ve had as a company in my 35-year career at IBM.” To back up that claim, Palmisano said IBM spends about $2.5 billion in support of its business partners.

According to IBM officials, examples of IBM business partners participating in Smarter Planet projects include:

* Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston uses IBM software and services from CGI to provide 24/7 Web-based access to the hospital’s documentation and patients’ financial and insurance information. In just 20 months, MHHS realized more than $1.2 million in operational cost savings by going to electronic records, according to IBM.

* IDACOMM, Amperion, Broadband Energy, Itron, Mitsubishi and PCPC are working with utility company CenterPoint Energy to deploy a smart meter system for the Houston area.

*State of Missouri Office of Homeland Security is using IBM services and software from NC4 to build the Missouri Emergency Resource & Information System (MERIS).

Palmisano has now made repeated overtures to rally IBM business partners behind the company’s global Smarter Planet campaign. IBM has poured millions of dollars into media campaigns tied to the concept, but expects business partners to make many of the concepts associated with Smarter Planet a reality. The challenge that IBM faces in making that happen is the wide disparity of business knowledge and technical acumen in the channel, which IBM hopes to bridge by creating a variety of online communities around the globe.