IBM, Ingram Make SMB Services Play

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IBM is pairing IBM Global Services with Ingram Micro's National Service Network and VentureTech Network members to deliver a full range of IT services to the SMB market.

The move follows an IBM program initiated in May that included assistance with enhanced field coverage and certification training for VentureTech members.

Solution providers hailed the plan as a breakthrough in manufacturer/channel relations. "It's a super deal," said Ted Warner, president of Connecting Point of Greeley, Greeley, Colo. "This will open up a whole host of opportunities for us."

Frank Vitagliano, IBM's vice president of distribution channels management, delivered the surprise announcement at Ingram Micro's recent VentureTech Network Invitational in Rancho Mirage, Calif., to a standing ovation from more than 350 solution providers. IBM Global Services' goal in using Ingram Micro's National Services Network and VentureTech consortium of SMB solution providers is simple: to improve IBM's service delivery and increase its market access and penetration into the SMB market, he said.

"We're trying to move toward solution providers selling full solutions including services," he said. "This is a big deal. This will improve our market access."

To underscore the initiative's importance, Vitagliano was accompanied by John Pratt, vice president of channel services at IBM Global Services, who spoke throughout much of the 40-minute presentation.

"We want to take advantage of the power of this organization," Pratt said.

Every week distributors approach him about forming similar types of partnerships, he said. "We wanted to start here," he said. "We want to increase your access, as well as ours, into the SMB market. By working with Ingram Micro and IBM, we can provide what's been missing in the past."

Vitagliano says IBM is trying to move toward 'selling full solutions.'

Ingram Micro and IBM Global Services are working out the details of the program, said executives from both companies.

During the next two months, the different teams will meet to hammer out the terms and conditions, said Justin Crotty, senior director of channel development at Ingram Micro. "We have to figure out the skeletal time line, what the engagement is going to look like, what the hand-off points are, what the pilot [programs are going to encompass," he said. "There are a lot of [terms and conditions that need to be handled. There are a lot of operation questions that need to be addressed."

The germ of the deal started in May when Vitagliano made his first appearance at a VentureTech Invitational. When he asked how IBM could be a better partner, many VentureTech members said the vendor could allow them to team up with IBM Global Services.

Vitagliano promised he would look into such a partnership, but first he needed to address other issues, including providing solution providers with deep training and certification on wireless and other technologies, improving fill rates, helping them sell more profitable solutions, and setting up a help desk and dedicated account representatives specifically for VentureTech members.

Having achieved those goals, which VentureTech members said proved IBM's channel commitment, Vitagliano said he felt he was ready to move forward with the services initiative.

Solution providers said his timing couldn't have been better.

"We've been waiting a long time for something like this," said Pat Mallon, senior vice president of Condor Technology Solutions, Falls Church, Va. "It's going to help [IBM Global Services by giving them the local touch in the SMB [market and increasing their credibility in the VAR space. When I think of who the channel-friendly manufacturers are now, I can only think of IBM."

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