Selling Solutions Is The Name Of The Game


Over the past few weeks, IBM has unveiled several servers, including pSeries Unix servers based on the Power5 processor, four-way servers based on Intel's upcoming X3 architecture and Hurricane chipset, and two-way Opteron units.

The Armonk, N.Y., company has also unveiled storage hardware and software for information life-cycle management.

IBM is hoping these components will comprise a larger solution that addresses customers' needs from soup to nuts, said Denise Buonaiuto, vice president of Global Business Partner Sales in IBM's Systems and Technology Group.

"If you're doing the right thing, which is selling solutions to [address] customers' business problems, by the very nature of that you have to sell hardware, software and services," Buonaiuto said. "And actually our partners, especially our TSSC [Total Storage Solution Center] partners, very rarely sell what I call 'naked hardware,' unless they've already sold a solution and are just increasing capacity."

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With that in mind, part of IBM's PartnerWorld agenda is dedicated to unveiling a number of initiatives aimed at making it easier for solution providers large and small to shift their focus to selling solutions from just selling products.

Part of that is a push to change TSSCs, which are centers developed and built with technical and financial assistance from IBM to showcase IBM storage solutions, into Business Partner Innovation Centers (BPICs), which emphasize complete solutions, she said.

To change a TSSC to a BPIC, solution providers must get certified for two additional platformssuch as xSeries and pSeries servers or pSeries and blade serversto bring more complete solutions to customers, she said.

Joe Andersen, vice president of services at MSI Systems Integrators, an Omaha, Neb.-based IBM solution provider, said his company is one of the first to transform its TSSC into a BPIC and is looking forward to giving customers hands-on demonstrations of new IBM solutions.

The shift to demonstrating solutions in a BPIC is important as customers' requirements become increasingly complex, Andersen said. For instance, a customer considering a business-continuity solution needs to look at the storage, the server, the software and the applications.

"A lot of the time, these complex solutions tend to be sold via white papers or fact sheets so they leave some doubt in the customer's mind," he said. "And while probably every major vendor has demonstration capabilities somewhere, it's unique that IBM is pushing [these capabilities] out to the partners to make them more accessible to customers instead of expecting [customers] to fly across the country."

IBM is also introducing a new channel-ready pilot program to help solution providers create what the company calls a Data Retention Center of Competence to help their customers build and implement compliance and information life-cycle management solutions.

This program is focused mainly on solution providers that have invested in TSSCs because of the heavy emphasis on storage, which is the key component of a compliance program, Buonaiuto said. "We are arming Business Partners with the hardware, software, [total cost of ownership] analysis tools and other tools so partners can go to the customer and show the value of data retention."

For Andersen, IBM's packaging of solutions for specific customer needs such as compliance is important, as proven bundles can ease management concerns and ensure the solutions behave as expected. "Mandated compliance regulations from the government are forcing companies to manage data better," he said. "IBM's answer is to put together a packaged solution."

For smaller solution providers, IBM is introducing the System Seller program of flexible server and storage bundles.

The program, based on a similar program piloted with channel partners in Europe and Africa, brings together the company's xSeries, pSeries, Blade Center and Linux-based Open Power servers with certain storage arrays in a number of preconfigured bundles aimed at small- and midsize-business customers.

IBM is using the program to make it easier for solution providers to procure competitively priced hardware and software bundles within a few days of sending in the purchase order, without the need for special bids, Buonaiuto said. "It also gives them predictable margins."

Discount pricing will be used to increase the attach rate of storage with servers, Buonaiuto said.

HEATHER CLANCY and ELIZABETH MONTALBANO contributed to this story.