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IBM CEO Rometty Offers Her Vision Of Channel Opportunities

The new IBM chief executive pledges commitment to solution providers and receives a warm welcome from partners at PartnerWorld conference.

In her first address to channel partners since taking charge as IBM president and CEO, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty Wednesday pledged the company's commitment to the channel, promising more resources for co-marketing and skills development and assistance to expand into new IT markets.

And judging by the warm reception Rometty received from the 1,000-plus channel partners attending the IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in New Orleans, IBM partners are equally ready to pledge their loyalty.

"This was important for me to be here," Rometty said in a 30-minute keynote speech that drew sustained applause from conference attendees. "Our commitment is unwavering. I want you to know how much I value, personally, our partnerships. We work hard -- very hard -- to be unique to you because I know you have choices."

Related: IBM Names New Channel Chief As CEO Rometty Assembles Her Management Team

Rometty assumed the president and CEO posts on Jan. 1, succeeding Sam Palmisano who remains as chairman.

Rometty devoted a great deal of her speech to highlighting new markets and IT growth areas she sees as opportunities for IBM and its business partners. But early on she said the question she has been most frequently asked since becoming CEO is "what are you going to change?"

"What won't change is our commitment to business partners," she said emphatically. "It will grow stronger. You are 20 percent of our revenue. You are 120,000-strong worldwide. I'm relentless about some of this. I'm relentless about us continuing to give you high-value leads, continuing to make it easier to do business [with us], continuing to give you integrated offerings, continuing to take you with us into the future. So number one, unequivocally, our commitment to business partners will only grow."

Partners welcomed Rometty's stay-the-course message. "Ginni's comments were very pro-partner," said Ernie Yenke, president of Lighthouse Computer Services, a Lincoln, R.I.-based IBM partner. "She looks to grow the percentage of IBM business which goes through the channel."

Yenke also praised new rebate incentives IBM announced Tuesday to encourage channel partners to sell more IBM hardware and software combined into more integrated solutions. "It's very encouraging for us," Yenke said of IBM's direction.

Rick Kearney, president and CEO of Mainline Information Systems, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based IBM partner, was among about 100 partners who met with Rometty during a partner dinner Tuesday evening and was impressed with the amount of time she took to chat with every partner.

"She did address my hope that there would be concerted IBM/partner dialogs going forward, including synergistic partnership from global executives all the way to field sales teams to engage and empower us as business partners and jointly deliver relevant, cutting-edge solutions to our customers especially in new markets," Kearney said in an emailed comment after Rometty's keynote.

Next: Channel Opportunities In The Front Office

Throughout her keynote Rometty spoke with an easy confidence, reeling off statistics about IBM's business while occasionally bantering with the audience. Once, when the early-morning attendees were slow in responding, Rometty said in a mock-threatening tone from the stage: "Don't make me walk out there."

Rometty devoted much of her keynote to what she sees as the new business opportunities for IBM and its channel partners -- which she referred to as "growth plays."

Some of the areas are already among IBM's target initiatives as Palmisano outlined in his keynote speech at the same conference one year ago. Rometty, for example, cited the growth potential of IBM's business analytics technologies and noted that 95 percent of those sales to SMBs go through partners.

Rometty also described "a new era of computing that is upon us" that is "defined by computing moving to the front office." That includes selling business analytics, "Big Data" management capabilities and other technologies not just to IT departments, but to chief financial officers, chief marketing officers and other non-traditional customers.

That resonated with Geert Hallemeesch, a partner with Numius, a Belgium-based company that develops business analytics solutions around IBM products, including its Cognos and SPSS software. Numius' customers increasingly include chief marketing officers and other non-IT executives. Hallemeesch, in an interview at the conference, cited a recent business analytics project Numius did for Tele Ticket Service as an example of the kind of new opportunities Rometty was describing.

"It's reassuring to hear that we're in the sweet spot of that strategy," he said.

Mainline's Kearney got a similar message. "She challenged us to sell IBM Cloud and [Global Technology Services] solutions inside our legacy [Systems & Technology Group] accounts, call on new customers in our respective territories and to find ways for us to be relevant to midmarket "front office" executives like physicians, chief marketing officers and business planners," he said.

"My take away of Ginni's keynote and the conference was, it's all about data. Capturing data, assimilating it, relating it and making its results available instantly to any device within the secure network is the new difference maker in today's business environment."

Rometty also promised continued investment in technical support, training and certification, and co-marketing resources for channel partners.

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