IBM Sees New Partner Roles Due to Disruptive Tech

By Gina Roos
IBM partner transformation

IBM has revamped its channel strategy as new technologies, particularly cloud computing, big data analytics, mobile and social, blur partners' roles and drive changes in how they work with vendors.

A key driver of change in the channel is the transformation in the technology landscape as enterprises transition to the hybrid cloud, according to IBM.

"The single biggest shift as the world moves increasingly to hybrid cloud implementations is tying together a customer's traditional backend system of record—all of the things they use to run their business day to day—with new systems of engagement to help them find and target customers, look for new areas of opportunity, and expand into new geographies," said John Mason, IBM's midmarket general manager.

A year ago, Mason started talking to small and midsize businesses about moving to cloud technologies, and today, almost every SMB he speaks with is at least on the path to implementation, with many of them, up to 40 to 50 percent, starting to explore analytics.

Mason has global responsibility for sales of IBM products and services to companies with fewer than 1,000 employees as well as relationships with cloud and managed service providers

"This transformational change is leading to a whole new set of dynamics that customers are facing, which is also having a series of implications in terms of business models of who plays which role in meeting a customer's needs," said Mason. "Part of the role of our business partner is to help and fill the knowledge and skills gap that a lot of SMBs have in respect to how they can take advantage of these technologies."

This includes how customers can use new technology to grow their businesses, find new markets, engage better with customers and reduce costs. Examples of these new engagements include nViso, which is using IBM's SoftLayer Cloud to build a cloud-based facial-expression analytics solution to be more targeted in its marketing and advertising offering, and eyeQ, which is using IBM's BlueMix platform-as-a-service technology to deploy a solution for retail customers that personalizes the shopping experience with insights and metrics.

Blurring the Lines Between Partner Roles

As market and technology transitions create new partner models, the traditional definitions of reseller, distributor, independent software vendor (ISV) and managed services provider (MSP) continue to blur, said John Mason, IBM's midmarket general manager.

"These traditional ways of thinking—putting partners into discrete boxes—are less relevant today as we see this year of cloud computing change not just technology architectures but whole business models in industries."

Business partners who may have been selling IBM systems as traditional VARs are starting to evolve into helping customers with managed services, said Mason. These partners also may develop some cloud services of their own—cloud storage, hosting email or unified communications (UC) in the cloud, he added.

"They are moving from a traditional resale of storage hardware to offering a service where they are buying technology from IBM, which could be hardware or a service like SoftLayer that they can use themselves to host their own service or resell to their customers," he explained. "They can also provide integration services and work with any of our other vendor partners who are connected within the IBM ecosystem through PartnerWorld [IBM's partner conference]. It's a much more complex set of dynamics."


These changes have driven IBM to rethink its entire channel engagement model, "starting with the creation of the One Channel organization, which tries to make it much simpler for our partners to work with IBM and get the support they need, irrespective of which product group it happens to be from," said Mason.

"That has driven IBM to a much more holistic customer-centric approach, he added.

So instead of organizing the company by product groups within specific brands, IBM is placing more emphasis on solutions around the technology categories of cloud, analytics, social and security, as well as industry verticals.

For the past 20 years, the technology industry has worked with traditional partners, including distributors and resellers, who get a set of programs around a particular product set, Mason said.

"The opportunity for the partners today is that they can play in different parts of the value chain, depending on where they see their strength and opportunity in the market and what their value prop is to their customer set," he added. "They can specialize in particular technologies or a certain geography or industry or customer set, and we'll support that partner with programs and incentives and support tailored to them.

"The combination of analytics, cloud and mobile is the area where I'm seeing lots of innovation from smaller companies that have access to technologies that previously would have required a lot of capital investments," said Mason.

One example is WayBlazer, an ecosystem partner and startup, that is using IBM Watson technology to deliver more optimized choices in travel arrangements. The WayBlazer Insight Engine uses a standards-based cognitive cloud from Cognitive Scale, which is powered by IBM Watson technology.  

"It's freeing up small businesses to enter new markets, scale faster and be more targeted with new offerings with disruptive business models. It's also opening up new opportunities for our business partners to help them to do that and that is really what's most exciting," he added.

Gina Roos, a Channel Insider contributor, focuses on technology and the channel.

This article was originally published on 2015-05-06