WebSphere Innovation Centers Gaining Momentum

IBM’s distribution and solution provider partners plan new openings

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If they build it, will you come? IBM believes so.

The vendor has already opened a slew of WebSphere Innovation Centers (WICs) with distribution and solution provider partners, and more are on the way.

Later this month, distributor Avnet plans to open a center in Tempe, Ariz., and solution provider Covansys is scheduled to open a facility in its Farmington Hills, Mich., location.

In March, Avnet launched its first WIC in San Antonio. In addition, Computer Generated Solutions (CGS) created a virtual WIC for training from its St. John, New Brunswick, location.

IBM's Mike Colleary says the centers benefit - partners by allowing them to display solutions and build prototypes.

The WICs allow partners to build and test WebSphere solutions for prospective end-user customers. The centers have been very successful, say solution providers.

Rave Software Solutions, an IBM partner that teams with other resellers on its WIC opportunities, closed four deals in four months since its WIC opened in New York last December, said Stephen Arees, vice president of business development and marketing at Rave. "And we've got another $6 million in the pipeline," he said. "WIC accelerated the WebSphere sales cycle and is increasing the total scope of the solution. We closed our first deal two weeks after opening it. That was originally scheduled for the second quarter, so it was a huge win for us."

Rave plans to expand its 3,000-square-foot center by 1,000 square feet and use it as a training and seminar center for end users. In addition to teaming with other solution providers, the company receives help from Avnet, which was an initial sponsor of the center.

"Avnet allowed us to leverage a distributor-level relationship, as opposed to dozens of one-off relationships with partners," said Arees. "They are a big resource to market how partners can make money with WICs, as opposed to us doing that separately."

Avnet's San Antonio center is focused on IBM's iSeries, pSeries and xSeries servers. The Tempe location will focus on server platforms from other vendors, including Hewlett-Packard, Sun, Compaq and Oracle, said Jack Morris, vice president of software at Avnet Hall-Mark, Avnet's computer distribution subsidiary. WebSphere has been Avnet Hall-Mark's fastest-growing software product line, Morris said.

"It's been double-digit growth, easily," he said. "We're making significant investments, and [the WICs are a way for IBM to leverage the channel they have."

Ingram Micro opened its first WIC last September in Santa Ana, Calif. Since then, WICs have been opened in Asia and Europe, and about 12 more are scheduled to open this year, mostly in North America, according to IBM.

The vendor authorizes partners to create WICs because its own resources can't match the expected growth of the platform, said Mike Colleary, IBM's vice president of SMB software channels for the Americas.

"We want everybody to participate. It really becomes important to customers to be able to display your solution, to demonstrate and build prototypes," Colleary said.

The centers allow customers to see a solution at work that is unique to their own needs, Colleary said.

"They want a reference. They don't want to be the first one to try it," he said. "Now there are reference customers already deployed, and it becomes the business partner's turnkey solution after doing the prototypes."

And partner-run WICs help IBM reach the SMB markets for WebSphere, said company executives.

The partner-run centers also allow for WebSphere to be integrated with multiple platforms, Colleary said.

"Most customers are not just an IBM shop or a Sun shop," he said. "There's a mixed set of products, and they need middleware products to enable one system to talk to another."

About 25 percent of IBM's WebSphere-related revenue comes from the SMB market, up from about 18 percent last year, said Jocelyne Attal, vice president of marketing for the WebSphere division at IBM.

The vendor would like the mix to reach 50 percent after special SMB-focused solutions hit the market later this year, Attal said.

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