IBM's New Mantra: 'Innovation That Matters'

“It’s time to go beyond On Demand,” said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM’s vice president of technical strategy and innovation. He said the new IBM marketing theme allows customers and business partners to build upon e-business infrastructure with discussions about how to leverage IT for a competitive advantage in the market. “ ‘Innovation That Matters’ is aimed at this wider dialogue,” he said.

Some business partners applauded the new marketing effort, which takes the next step beyond On Demand. “IBM is focusing on solutions; that’s what drives the business,” said Joe Mertens, executive vice president of services and computer solutions at Sirius Computer Solutions, an IBM business partner in San Antonio.

For the third PartnerWorld in a row, however, IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano won’t be attending. Instead, the task of articulating the new strategy will fall to J. Bruce Harreld, IBM’s senior vice president of marketing and strategy.

“The launch of this innovation campaign happens to coincide with PartnerWorld and, given that, we decided that the head of strategy and marketing for the company is the right person to deliver that message,” said Donn Atkins, IBM’s vice president and general manager of global business partners.

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Martin Tarr, CEO of Tiburon Technologies, an IBM partner based in Cleveland, said he feels Palmisano should address partners at an annual conference. “When you get together once a year at a partner conference, you expect to have the top leader address your partnership and your customers,” Tarr said.

Mertens said he “would love to see [Palmisano] show up,” but noted that the executives who drive partner decisions and strategy will all be in attendance and that IBM’s channel programs have remained consistent for years. “If they stay true to their [channel] programs, that’s how they win partner loyalty,” he said.

As a part of the innovation initiative, Wladawsky-Berger said IBM would open up its research centers to business partners. He said, for example, if a business partner has a regional hospital client that needs help with a digital imaging application, the business partner could tap IBM’s research capabilities to solve the problem. “The business partner can bring the key people in the hospital and visit a research center to help them find a solution,” Wladawsky-Berger said. Previously, research centers were open primarily to only IBM’s largest corporate customers.

IBM Global Services, too, is trying to build upon a plan launched last year to partner more closely with business partners in the SMB market. Last year, IBM said it planned to invest $300 million to help business partners grow services and consulting opportunities in SMB accounts. Among the offerings was a sales agent program for IGS-delivered services in hosting and strategic outsourcing.

“We made some announcements at PartnerWorld last year that have resulted in the growth that we see in the channel business for IGS; it has more than doubled in the 2005-2006 time frame,” said Kevin Hooper, IGS’ director of worldwide channel marketing and enablement.

“This year IGS’ Business Consulting Services unit will offer an IBM Express IT strategy assessment, an Express vulnerability assessment and an Express Web site effectiveness assessment. These are prepackaged tools that allow the business partner an opportunity to get into an account and to establish credibility on some things that we think are on the CIO’s agenda,” said Steve Solazzo, IBM’s general manager of global small and medium business.

To help support the “Innovation That Matters” initiative, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM is launching a Technology Collaboration Solutions unit headed by Adalio Sanchez. “We see customers racing to gain a competitive edge by trying to integrate IT technology into products and services,” he said.

As a result, IBM is bringing together its chip development, engineering and technology services unit, telco networking business, OEM systems sales organization and intellectual property content into the new unit.

Sanchez said the new unit will help customers tap IBM resources to solve technology problems beyond IT infrastructure. He cited the recent collaboration with the Mayo Clinic to build a new MRI device targeting a specific area of the body rather than a complete body scan. “This opens opportunities for IBM where we have not had a presence in the past,” he said. Sanchez said the new unit would benefit IBM’s ISVs and systems integrators because the business partners can tap Technology Collaboration Solutions to complete solutions for their clients.

STEVEN BURKE contributed to this story.