XChange: IBM Tells VARs It's All About Keeping It Simple

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IBM is dealing with an increasingly complex world by simplifying how it works with partners and customers, according to a trio of IBM executives who took the stage Monday at the XChange Solution Provider conference.

Elaine Case, vice president for North American Business Partner and Midmarket Marketing at IBM, said IBM is committed to simplifying its channel offerings even as the company continues to change the way it does business.

"We work on simplicity every day," she said. "And I'm not kidding. … As we grow, it adds to complexity. And it's almost like we're fighting back against [complexity]."

IBM has made several changes in how it works with partners to make it easier for them to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex world, Case said.

For instance, IBM has been pushing its solution providers to work on specializations, including a recently announced cloud specialty, because the only way for it to grow is by giving its partners the skills to grow as well.

IBM also recently simplified its four largest co-marketing programs into a single program aligned with partner growth areas, Case said.

Marsha Trant, North American vice president of Sales, Channels and Operations for IBM Global Technology Services, said recurring revenue was an important part of how IBM will deal with partners in the future.

To make it easier to take advantage of recurring revenue, IBM developed a new tool called S2 that allows solution providers to download a standardized statement of work that can be used to prepare their own statement of work for customers in hours instead of weeks.

IBM is also introducing new industry certifications such as Software Plus, which helps solution providers improve skills in specific industries and in cloud computing to make more money, said Shaun Jones, vice president of Marketing for Worldwide Channels and for General Business Marketing in IBM's Software Group.

IBM promises double-digit extra margins and a better chance of getting the best customer opportunities to solution providers with the right certifications, Jones said.

The changes are coming as IBM plans its next wave of growth. The company has publicly stated that it is committed to yearly earnings per share of $20 by 2015, compared to $11.52 in 2010, Case said.

That boost will come from an emphasis on growth markets, business analytics, cloud computing and IBM's Smarter Planet initiative, she said.

"This is important to you because we're putting a significant investment in making this work for partners," she said.

It is certainly important for Ray Scardelli, vice president of sales and marketing for Micro Strategies, a Denville, N.J.-based solution provider singled out by IBM as an example of a partner taking advantage of its experience working with IBM's cloud computing strategy.

Micro Strategies is helping a startup, Music Mastermind, develop a cloud-based offering that lets consumers with no musical talent put together and even collaborate with others on professional-sounding songs utilizing tracks from professional musicians.

"IBM's public cloud is, I believe, the only one strong enough to offer the security needed to do this," Scardelli said.

Mike Meloy, president of DRS, a Youngstown, Ohio-based solution provider and managed co-location services provider, said his company is not an IBM partner, but that it will be giving IBM a second look in terms of its cloud services offerings.

"I don't see IBM as an infrastructure play as much as a services play in the 100- to 400-seat market," Meloy said. "The ease of doing business and simplicity is a message that never used to be seen from IBM."

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