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IBM CEO Arvind Krishna To Partners: To Win New Clients, ‘We Need Your Help’

Wade Tyler Millward

‘I want to increase the number of clients, also, not just wallet share,’ IBM CEO Arvind Krishna says at The Channel Company’s Best of Breed conference in Atlanta. ‘That means that we need your help. We are not going to go there directly at all.’

Under Arvind Krishna’s watch, IBM has decreased the number of direct customers from about 5,000 in 2020 to about 400, the CEO told a crowd Monday. And the tech giant plans to leave potential new clients to partners.

“I want to increase the number of clients, also, not just wallet share,” Krishna said. “That means that we need your help. We are not going to go there directly at all.”

The CEO of Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM discussed his company’s investment in partners, the integration of subsidiary Red Hat, encouraged partners to raise their prices given the inflationary economic environment and even weighed in on chipmaker Broadcom‘s pending acquisition of cloud vendor VMware at CRN parent The Channel Company’s 2022 XChange Best of Breed (BoB) conference in Atlanta.

Krishna was on stage responding to questions from The Channel Company Founding Partner Robert Faletra and CRN Executive Editor of News Steven Burke.

[RELATED: IBM Assimilates Red Hat Storage Technology Into Own Storage Business]

Mark Wyllie, CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based IBM partner Flagship Solutions Group, told CRN in an interview that he’s glad to hear IBM plans to continue integrating different parts of the Red Hat business.

Earlier this month, IBM announced that it had absorbed storage technology and teams from its Red Hat business to combine them with IBM’s own storage business unit as a way to help clients take advantage of the two without requiring extra integration or having to deal with multiple sales teams.

Wyllie wants to see IBM further integrate Red Hat services into its portfolio to help partners push the services out to existing IBM customers.

“I think that’d be a benefit to us and IBM,” Wyllie said.

Red Hat’s autonomy within IBM has been essential to its position as an open source software vendor. Krishna clarified Monday that the Red Hat brand will stay in areas where it has a stronger brand than IBM. For storage, “maybe we already have a storage channel, which Red Hat kind of didn’t,” Krishna said.

He said IBM gave Red Hat more security and management capabilities after its acquisition in 2019. Partners can expect more integration between Red Hat and IBM in areas involving Linux.

“So if you can take maybe 50,000 Linux servers and consolidate them using OpenShift on LinuxOne, maybe that‘s a play to be made,” Krishna said. “There’s a few clients who have woken up to that and are doing it right now. So I think that’s going to be a really big play you’re going to see.”

During his talk, Krishna encouraged partners to explore more opportunities in IBM’s artificial intelligence operations (AIOps) offerings, including Turbonomic, Watson AIOps and Instana.

Customers will continue to spend on automation tools, he said.

“The ability to go into an enterprise and tell them, ‘Look, we can do things a lot more automated. We can take some cost out. We can do monitoring, and eventually go closed loop on AI’ – which I don‘t think is happening yet,” Krishna said. “I think is a massive opportunity given the current labor market.”

IBM’s security offerings, as well as Red Hat and containerization offerings, are also areas for partners to invest in, Krishna said.

As for Broadcom and VMware, Krishna said that VMware remains an important partner for his company. And as long as VMware keeps investing in its products, it should remain “a strong franchise.”

“I think it’ll come down to what is going to happen in 2023 and 2024,” Krishna said. “As long as they keep innovating on the products, they keep giving more function back to their clients – it’s a strong franchise. That falls away, then that‘s a different question. But I think the virtualization world likes those products. Now it’s up to them to keep innovating.”

Krishna also told partners they should raise prices to cover the growing cost of labor with such high inflation in the U.S.

“From our conversations with clients, I would tell you that nobody loves it, but they all understand,” he said. “Because most of our clients are doing the same out to their clients. … Pricing power comes down to something simple. Is the product highly valuable and is it sticky? … In a world of fewer skills, if you have the skills, you can price those skills.”

Wade Tyler Millward

Wade Tyler Millward is an associate editor covering cloud computing and the channel partner programs of Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat, Oracle, Salesforce, Citrix and other cloud vendors. He can be reached at wmillward@thechannelcompany.com.

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