Since IBM Lotus unveiled its LotusLive cloud-computing applications one year ago, the vendor has largely sold the application services direct to customers. Case in point is the mega-deal with Panasonic, disclosed last week, under which LotusLive applications will be deployed to 300,000 employees at the consumer electronics giant.
But that's going to change this year, said Sean Poulley, vice president of cloud collaboration services in the IBM Software Group, in an interview Tuesday at the Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Fla.
From developing application programming interfaces (APIs) that will make it easier for VARs and ISVs to develop add-on software and services for LotusLive, to providing resellers with perpetual LotusLive demonstration accounts, Poulley declares: "This year is a big partner year for us."
LotusLive is a collection of on-demand collaboration and communications tools, including Web conferencing, file sharing, e-mail and calendaring. IBM Lotus is generally positioning its on-premise software for use inside of companies and LotusLive for working with customers, suppliers and business partners outside the firewall.
Formally launched at Lotusphere 2009, LotusLive attracted 18 million subscribers in its first year. But most of those sales have been made with little participation from IBM Lotus channel partners.
Innovative Ideas Unlimited, a Wakefield, Mass.-based Lotus channel partner, uses LotusLive to work with IBM and other Lotus partners. But the solution provider isn't really selling the service to customers, said president Daniel Lieber. While he sees potential in providing customers with hybrid on-premise/cloud systems, he said he needs more details about the role channel partners will play "so we understand what the specific value proposition is."
Other channel partners at Lotusphere also said they are not working with LotusLive.
Poulley intends to change that this year. He sees four categories of channel partners that could work with LotusLive: traditional VARs and VADs, managed service providers, Web conferencing service providers, and ISVs that develop applications that run with LotusLive. "I see these guys as an extension of the whole value proposition of LotusLive," Poulley said of that last category.
IBM currently handles all LotusLive hosting to avoid version incompatibility problems and support issues, Poulley said. But the value channel partners can provide assessment, implementation and migration services, as well as services that tie into LotusLive such as help desk. "It's the things that you do around it that have the most profit potential," he said.
One issue with cloud computing and the channel is whether solution providers own the relationship with the customer. Poulley said many partners that resell LotusLive Web conferencing services own the relationships, including handling all sales and billing.
He said partners also want to "white label" the LotusLive applications and IBM Lotus is working on the best way to do this. That will certainly incorporate multi-tier service administration technology the company acquired early last year when it bought Outblaze Ltd., a Hong Kong-based provider of online messaging and collaboration services. While some partners already white label the LotusLive services, Poulley said he expects those ranks to grow this year.
"We're still working on the business side to make LotusLive more channel friendly," he said. The company now offers VARs perpetual demo accounts for Engage, one component of LotusLive, and plans to offer the same for the iNotes service.
Another key effort is improving the LotusLive APIs that resellers and ISVs can use to build applications that work with the application services. And the Lotus-wide "Collaboration Agenda" initiative to help channel partners develop vertical industry-focused software and services around Lotus products also applies to LotusLive, Poulley said.