From A Partner Program Perspective, IBM Says Its Cognitive Transformation Is Already Complete

IBM has been talking a lot about cognitive transformation over the past few years. At least as far as Big Blue's partner program goes, that transformation is now complete, IBM's channel chief said Tuesday at the company's partner conference.

"Partner plan is done. Business model is done. Strategy is clear," Marc Dupaquier, general manager of IBM's global business partners, told CRN after delivering his keynote at the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

"Now it's about winning, and that's what we'll continue to be doing in 2017," Dupaquier said.

[Related: IBM CEO Urges Partners To Choose Their Cloud Architecture Wisely, Noting That Decisions Made Today Will Impact Their Businesses For Decades]

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That message marks a clear departure from the last three PartnerWorld conferences. Those events all consistently hit on the theme of channel program transformation as they encouraged partners to evolve their practices to prepare for the advent of the Watson cognitive platform and the strategic imperatives of cloud, mobile, big data and security.

In the past, IBM's PartnerWorld channel program had been inconsistent within business units, sending mixed signals to partners as to where IBM wanted them to be, Dupaquier said during his keynote.. One goal of the transformation was to shift IBM's channel from being product-aligned to competency-aligned, he said.

Last year, the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology revamped its program for the first time in 11 years. Since that "radical change," Dupaquier told CRN, IBM has done even more to simplify how it works with partners and streamline the on-boarding process.

While incremental updates to PartnerWorld will continue, the major overhaul intended to position partners for the cognitive era is complete, Dupaquier told CRN.

IBM did introduce on Tuesday a few of those program updates.

Among them, IBM is opening to its channel the ability to resell its solution for extending on-premise VMware installations to the IBM cloud. IBM struck the partnership with the virtualization leader last year.

IBM also introduced new competencies around security, cloud-based video services, the Watson Internet of Things platform and offering IBM financing to customers.

Four new strategic initiatives were unveiled as well. Those are intended to make it easier for partners to embed IBM solutions in their own branded offerings, validate ISV solutions built on the Bluemix platform, resell entry-level products, and enhance incentives for software resellers.

There's also a new support tool geared for partners called PartnerWorld Advisor that uses Watson's cognitive capabilities to direct solution providers to channel program resources.

But those updates are simply "complementing a big story," Dupaquier told CRN. "The overall partner architecture, I think this is one we'll be running with for the next five years."

Wipro, a global systems integrator, has experienced how the evolving PartnerWorld program has impacted the go-to-market dynamics for channel partners, said Pallab Kumar Deb, Wipro's vice president of analytics.

IBM, in overhauling its channel program, recognized the shift across the industry that is driving partners to bring to market solutions built on comprehensive platforms, not specific stand-alone products, he said.

"The partner program matured to handle the platform relationship," Deb said. "These platforms are evolving and there are not too many choices. And what's available on the platform is who's going to win the battle."

That shift has involved an embrace of open-source technologies, which deliver innovation faster than any company can introduce on its own, coupled with the economic benefits delivered by the cloud, Deb said.

"There's a concerted effort to embrace technologies not developed all on your own," Deb said. "Silos are breaking down to be more solution-oriented, and that to me is the biggest part of the transformation," he told CRN.