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IBM, Seeking Growth Path, To Help VARs Sell Across Brands

IBM, which has grown its software business slower than key rivals, wants to help VARs sell more of its software.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant says it is rolling out a new portal that will provide push-button resources to help solution providers mix and match products from between their core competency and other IBM applications. The portal, which IBM is calling "Grow Your Business," launched in a quiet pilot program earlier this year but is going into a formal offering.

"In the tool when you go in there, you click on Websphere, it will show you a half dozen other products that will compliment Websphere that will allow you to cross-sell or up-sell into your existing installed base," said Michael Gerentine, vice president of global channel and SMB marketing for IBM.

IBM, which has a 3,000-SKU large software product catalog that could compare to a Russian novel, is offering 52 products in the Grow Your Business online tool that will provide for 60-different cross-brand solutions, the company said. The lineup will include some of IBM's top software names including WebSphere and Tivoli. The new offering also provides 800-number support for solution providers seeking assistance in developing cross-brand offerings, as well as an automated ROI calculator, so solution providers can determine how much investment they would need to make in training, certification and marketing expertise -- among other costs -- before taking on another product line.

The new effort is part of IBM's effort to catch up to competitors. Both Microsoft and Oracle, for example, have seen double-digit growth in their software businesses in recent quarters while IBM's software business has been growing at about 7 percent, year-over-year. In addition, IBM's software margins have been under pressure.

Daphne Brashear, co-founder of Island Training, a Durham, N.C.-based solution provider and IBM software channel partner, said she had found IBM's product lineup and information gateway to be frustrating in the past; she took part in the pilot test of the tool's rollout and gave it a thumbs-up.

"Most of the sense of frustration would be because there was so much information that was available," Brashear said. "Most of us rely on the Web interface for information. There is excellent technical sales and marketing support, but for speed you like to get on the Web. There was so much information there and it could be a very time-consuming process to get the information you needed.

"It's unbelievable how much this has streamlined the process," Brashear said.

Satish Jipster, vice president of marketing for Pengrine, a Charlotte, N.C., solution provider that also piloted the portal, said his company should be able to expand from the Tivoli product line it had delivered to customers to also include software like DB2 and WebSphere. Both Jipster and Brashear estimate the tool will enable them to push their sales growth on IBM's platforms to between 10 percent and 20 percent.

In addition to software partners, IBM is making the tool available to solution providers who focus on hardware, including the company's mid-range servers.

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