XChange: IBM Helping Partners Capture Cloud, Analytics Opportunities

IBM sees business opportunities for solution providers in cloud computing, business analytics and mobile computing and is launching several initiatives to help partners capitalize on them.

The IT vendor also sees major shifts occurring in customer buying patterns, said Bill Donohue, IBM Business Partners vice president, speaking at the XChange Solution Provider 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla.

"Clearly, the business is moving from back office and IT and CIOs to the front office, to line-of-business and to CMOs [chief marketing officers]," Donohue said. He cited a Gartner prediction that by 2017 CMOs will be spending more on IT than CIOs.

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"We clearly need to transform our businesses here. That's where the real growth opportunity is going to be," he said.

While the global economy remains on shaky ground, Donohue was upbeat about the IT industry's prospects for 2013. "Despite the economic woes we've had in North America, [IT sales in] North America should be a $720 billion opportunity this year and should be growing, roughly, at around 2 percent," he said.

IBM is forecasting that the market for business analytics systems, including hardware, software and services, will reach $85 billion in North America this year and is growing at an annual rate of 6 percent. Sales of IT for cloud computing will be $27 billion in North America this year, IBM predicts, with an annual growth rate of 21 percent (and reaching $150 billion globally by 2015).

And the worldwide market for mobile computing technologies, including devices and applications, will reach $36 billion by 2015 -- with North America accounting for about half of that, Donohue said.

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IBM has undertaken a number of initiatives to help partners capture that new business. Some are very nuts and bolts, such as the recent overhaul of the company's deal registration system to make it easier to use. "Our deal registration system was cumbersome, to say the least," Donohue acknowledged.

Others are more comprehensive. The IT vendor is offering more partner incentives through its Specialty and Elite partner programs and, as of the end of 2012, offering guaranteed margins on IBM Unix products, Power servers and -- starting just last week -- on all storage products, all PureSystems servers and on mainframe systems. "So we're listening and we're acting," Donohue said.

IBM is also working more closely with channel partners in field engagement and joint sales calls and is stepping up its lead-generation and lead-passing efforts. That includes nearly tripling the number of dedicated field resources that work with the channel.

Some of those initiatives were unveiled late last month at IBM's PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Las Vegas. IBM executives at that event specifically said it's trying to boost channel sales for the company's Systems & Technology Group products.

"This is all about selling with the channel in the environment, not selling through the channel," Donohue said.

IBM offers a range of products and services that cover all aspects of cloud computing, he noted, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Software- and business processes as-a-Service.

Donohue touted IBM's PureSystems converged infrastructure systems, launched nearly one year ago, as a key element of its cloud strategy. "PureSystems is important to IBM because it lays the technology foundation for our Business Partners and our clients to drive into this high-value area."

Donohue was joined on stage by Chris Pyle, president and CEO of Champion Solutions Group, an IBM Premier Business Partner, which has been expanding the range of cloud and managed services it offers customers. Pyle encouraged solution providers to expand their sales, marketing and engineering workforces to help them gain a competitive advantage.

And he told solution providers they should "eat your own dog food" and adopt cloud services to help manage their own businesses. "How can you seriously tell your customers to move to the cloud if you're not doing it yourself?" he said.