IBM Paves Way For Partner Transformation

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IBM on Monday said that business intelligence and analytics, mobility, and virtualization and the cloud are the three primary trends driving transformation of the channel, and that the company has programs in place to help solution providers meet the challenges of that transformation.

Wilfredo Sotolongo, vice president of IBM's North American business partners midmarket segment, said that those three areas, which were identified by a recent IBM survey of CIOs, should have partners looking at how they need to transform their businesses to meet future requirements.

That transformation includes examining such issues as their core competencies as well as whether they have the resources and management capabilities to make the transformation, Sotolongo told VAR attendees at the XChange Solution Provider 2012 conference, held this week in Los Angeles.

[Related: Services, Software Drive Healthy IBM Q4 Revenue, Profit]

"With customer buying patterns shifting to business intelligence, mobility, and the cloud, and you shifting to more managed services, you are facing some tough questions," he said.

Solution providers have three options for transforming their business, Sotolongo said.

The first is to partner with other solution providers, an activity which is already happening. However, Sotolongo said, this is changing in terms of the kind of partnerships in which solution providers engage. For instance, he said, hardware VARs are more and more likely to partner with MSPs going forward.

Because of that, Sotolongo said, IBM last week used its PartnerWorld Leadership Conference to unveil a new program called "Blue on Blue" which gives solution providers additional discounts for bundling hardware and software together. That additional discount is available even if a hardware VAR partners with a software VAR on a deal, he said.

The second option is for a solution provider to build its own business to specifically address the transformations which, because of significant capital investments and cultural changes could be risky, he said.

The third is to make acquisitions to get the kind of expertise needed, Sotolongo said. For instance, a traditional infrastructure-focused solution provider could acquire a boutique software developer.

IBM is working with solution providers to help with their transformation, Sotolongo said. For instance, IBM last year introduced five new cloud specialties which solution providers can attain. The company also has multiple paths for partners looking to do more with business intelligence and business analytics, and last month acquired a company called WorkLight for its smart phone and tablet technology, he said.

"So we're now playing across all three areas," he said. "We're not playing as a hardware company, or as a software company. We're playing as an integrated solution provider."

Partners need to do so as well, Sotolongo said. "In the end, customers are definitely migrating to integrated solutions buying, not best-of-breed solutions," he said.

Sotolongo said IBM's booking plan calls for his organization to grow its business three time faster than IBM's overall business, with software, server, and storage sales set to grow even faster. However, he said, that growth will come without adding new IBM personnel.

"We need you to accelerate our growth," he said.

Jamie Mathy, CTO for Mavidea Technology Group, a Bloomington, Ill.-based IBM solution provider, said Sotolongo's talk about the importance of mobility was relevant to his small business customers who are debating the right solution for mobile platforms.

For instance, Mathy said, customers who use NextGen Healthcare's electronic healthcare records (EHR) application can either provide iPads to doctors to use in place of paper charts or wait to invest in the upcoming Windows 8 tablet PCs.

Medical providers who cannot wait can will need to spend an additional $10,000 for an iPad version of the software plus $20 per month per doctor to use the interface, Mathy said. "But with Windows 8 tablets, the existing apps will run directly," he said.

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