IBM Recruiting MSPs, SAAS Providers

By Jessica Davis

IBM is quietly working to build its MSP channel by creating programs to help traditional VARs add or migrate to the emerging business model and also by recruiting MSPs to its traditional channel program.

The quiet moves come amid a time when IBM and other big vendors are talking in broad terms about the cloud and customer moves there. But IBM has said little about MSPs, as noted by MSPMentor. That's probably going to change in the months ahead.

IBM's Ed Abrams, vice president for marketing, IBM General Business, told Channel Insider that currently, MSP and SAAS channel partners fall under IBM's traditional tiered channel partner program, and since the compensation tends to be different, these service provider partners are classified according to their capabilities.

But IBM is working to create something a little more formal -- certifications that will be tailored to MSPs. In addition, the company is working to help traditional VARs find managed services and/or SAAS partners who can provide some of the additional services that midmarket customers want.

IBM's move towards a closer relationship with MSPs comes from its midmarket push. A recent IBM survey of midmarket executives showed that more were looking for a consultative relationship with their IT service providers rather than a transactional one.

Plus, 66 percent said they were looking to implement cloud computing and 65 percent said they were looking to implement software as a service in order to take advantage of a shared infrastructure to improve efficiencies, lower costs and improve scalability.

"There are opportunities for partners in the applications services and applications management areas," said Abrams. "We have recruited MSPs and we are continuing to do so."

But this is still an area under construction at IBM as Big Blue itself creates the infrastructure to support this new kind of business partners.

"Part of what we are doing is putting together the right education and tools," Abrams said. "We want partners to be able to build a network so they can find other partners to deliver what they can't."

Last year IBM announced that all midmarket accounts would be partner-led. Partners could call upon IBM support teams for help with deals, but partners would retain customer ownership.

This year IBM has said that it would accelerate the quality of the offerings. For example, IBM has increased its co-marketing investments to $140 million from $130 million last year.

And while that news of turning the midmarket over to the channel is greeted as good news by partners, many remain skeptical of it in practice. Some partners at the IBM PartnerWorld Leadership conference told Channel Insider that there remained some concern that IBM support would come in and end up taking over the deal.

"That has absolutely changed in terms of our intent and actions," said Abrams. But he understands that gaining partner trust will take time.

"But as a marketer I know that we've got to demonstrate that by doing it over a period of time, and meanwhile ensure we have the right partner-based assets and tools."


This article was originally published on 2011-02-17