New IBM Channel Chief Kate Woolley: We Need To Be ‘More Essential To Our Partners’

Partners ‘like IBM‘s strategy. They want to be a part of it. But they’re telling us that we need to do more. We need to be easier to do business with. And we need to become more essential to them,’ new IBM channel chief Kate Woolley tells CRN in an interview.


IBM’s new channel chief, Kate Woolley, promises to make Big Blue “easier to do business with” and “more essential to our partners” with a revamped partner portal and other projects in the near future.

Woolley – who quietly assumed her role in January after more than a year as IBM CEO Arvind Krishna’s chief of staff – told CRN in an interview that IBM partners agree with the Armonk, N.Y.-based vendor’s business strategy. But they want to see the company do more for the ecosystem.

“Partners are feeling that the IBM ecosystem is front and center in IBM strategic priorities,” Woolley said. “They‘ve heard that. They’re excited about that. They like IBM‘s strategy. They want to be a part of it. But they’re telling us that we need to do more. We need to be easier to do business with. And we need to become more essential to them.”

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She continued: “As I think about what my priorities are, everything has to ladder up to that. We have to double our revenue, IBM ecosystem revenue, in the next three to five years. And that’s the way we do it. We’ve got to be easier to do business with and be essential to our partners.”

[RELATED: Red Hat Channel Reorg: Meet New Chief Stefanie Chiras]

The hybrid cloud market that IBM seeks to dominate is a $1 trillion market opportunity for IBM,

its clients and its partners, according to the company. The IBM ecosystem is a multi-billion-dollar growth engine for the company and its partners. It has about 80,000 partners.

The number of ecosystem partners generating revenue for IBM’s hybrid cloud platform increased by more than 80 percent over the last year. For every $1 of hybrid platform revenue, IBM and ecosystem partners can generate $3 to $5 of software, $6 to $8 of services and $1 to $2 of infrastructure revenue, according to the company.

As channel chief, Woolley reports directly to Rob Thomas, IBM senior vice president of global markets. David La Rose, general manager of IBM partner ecosystem sales, and Brendan Kinkade, IBM’s vice president of technology and hybrid cloud partnerships, are key members of Woolley’s team, she said.

“I have all of the ecosystem,” Woolley said. “David La Rose is a key member of my team. And then all of the, as I said, the build, ISVs, the technology partnerships, developer advocacy, Red Hat marketplace, that all comes under me as the IBM channel chief.”

Having the channel team within IBM’s sales organization is a help to partners, she said.

“IBM has direct sales and channel and there is no difference – I have a seat at the table with that,” she said. “So I actually think it is very powerful and is also just another way of sending a message through the IBM organization that this (the channel) is a priority.”

Brandon Harris, vice president of modern data center at New York-based IBM partner Logicalis U.S. – No. 59 on CRN’s 2021 Solution Provider 500 and a member of CRN’s 2022 Managed Service Provider 500 – told CRN in an interview that he agrees with Woolley that IBM putting the channel and sales organizations closer is a benefit.

He also agreed that IBM has more work to do in pleasing partners, especially when it comes to training and education.

“They need to simplify things a little bit,” Harris said. “Their certification programs are very onerous and hard to manage. They’re taking some good steps on making it easier to do pricing and some of those kinds of things, but it‘s been a long time coming.

Harris continued: “I see some good things already happening. And I‘m just hoping that they continue to work toward the simplification and making it easier for partners to do business with IBM.”

Changes To Partner Portal

When asked about IBM’s efforts to be more essential and easier to work with for partners, Woolley pointed to enhancements made to IBM’s partner portal.

The enhancements, which will launch for U.S. partners on April 12, aim to optimize opportunity management, deal registration and sales collaboration.

A blog post this week on IBM Partner Portal changes explained that all IBM and partner tools will come together in one platform powered by Salesforce.

The portal has auto-pass, technical support and resource quick access to increase speed and efficiency. The portal has the chatter support chatbot to connect partners with IBM sellers for questions on specific opportunities and it offers a seller search function for locating IBM employees.

In February, a separate IBM blog post called the partner portal changes “the most significant improvement to how we work with you, our partners, in a decade.”

The company took more than 45 tools and consolidated them into one to simplify the deal registration process for all products. The company also added consistent rules on expiry and a common approach for cross-brand deals.

“From the portal you can login, confirm a deal and see its status almost immediately create a quote, request a deal review, and submit the relevant documentation,” according to the post.

Lord Moved To Weather Co.

The rise of Woolley to IBM channel chief – her formal title is general manager of ecosystem – comes as other channel-friendly vendors reorganize their leadership.

IBM subsidiary Red Hat recently picked Stefanie Chiras as its new channel chief. Google Cloud recently tapped Kevin Ichhpurani as its new channel chief. And HP recently named Kobi Elbaz to lead global channel efforts.

In January, the same month Woolley took on her new role, Bob Lord changed roles from senior vice president of worldwide ecosystems to senior vice president of IBM subsidiary The Weather Co. and its alliances.

In a statement to CRN, Lord said the channel is in “good hands” with Woolley’s leadership.

“Aligning the IBM Ecosystem to the sales function puts partners at the core of IBM’s new go to market strategy,“ he said. ”Kate Woolley’s leadership over the channel will bring an important skillset to the job, and IBM partners will be in very good hands under her leadership.”

On his LinkedIn account, Lord describes his new responsibilities as driving growth within The Weather Co., “Watson Advertising, and TradeLens – a blockchain-based platform that is digitizing the global supply chain and transforming trade. In addition, Bob is responsible for driving IBM’s strategic partnership transactions to enable the company’s growth and focus on embedding its hybrid cloud and AI technology platform.”

Describing his previous role with IBM, Lord said he “successfully launched IBM’s global ecosystem model, guided by an unwavering commitment to open innovation within the ecosystem. He transformed how the company engages with partners and developers to ensure client success using an open hybrid cloud approach infused with AI.”

Lord became senior vice president of worldwide ecosystems in 2019, according to his LinkedIn. He served as IBM’s chief digital officer before that, joining the company in 2016.

Other recent channel leadership departures at IBM include Michael Fino, who left his role as IBM vice president of ecosystem transformation and channel management in September, switching to Amazon Web Services and taking the title of managing director, worldwide commercial sales and operations, according to his LinkedIn account.

John Teltsch Jr. left his role as general manager of IBM Americas’ technology group in March and joined Converge Technology Solutions as chief revenue officer, according to his LinkedIn.

Kandyce Tripp remains in her role as IBM’s managing partner of global security services alliances and strategic programs, according to her LinkedIn account.

Woolley’s past role as Krishna’s chief of staff gives her “direct perspectives” on what Krishna envisions for IBM’s channel ecosystem, she told CRN. During her time as chief of staff, she worked with Krishna to define his priorities, drove IBM initiatives across the business and was part of the team leading the separation of IBM’s managed infrastructure services business and other major projects.

The former managed infrastructure services business is now the publicly traded, independent company Kyndryl.

Before joining IBM in 2020, Woolley worked for more than 14 years with consultancy Bain & Co. During her time with Bain, she co-led the cloud computing practice and led the Women@Bain program in the consultancy’s New York office.