IBM's Dupaquier: We Want Our Partners To Succeed

Big Changes For Big Blue

Marc Dupaquier, IBM's general manager of global business partners, hosted thousands of solution providers at this week's PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla., including 600 new channel partners who attended the conference for the first time.

The conference in some ways was the coming out party to IBM's channel for Big Blue's portfolio of cognitive solutions -- built on the Watson platform -- which have been driving one of the largest product transformations in the company's history.

Over the past two years, IBM partners have heeded the company's call to transform their practices in line with IBM's strategy, yet many partners had yet to see business growth. But that's about to change, Dupaquier said.

With the advent of the era of cognitive computing and the maturation of IBM's Watson platform, their time has come, he told partners, before presenting them with the outline of a revamped PartnerWorld program.

Here are assorted comments from Dupaquier compiled from his PartnerWorld Leadership Conference keynotes, a press conference and an interview with CRN.

How has the shift to what IBM characterizes as the "cognitive era" motivated transformation of the channel?

It forced us to completely rethink how we are helping partners. In the last few years we were very product-centric. Partners were taking a certification path very aligned to product. But the value was not about product mastery, but everything they were doing on top. We realized while the product knowledge was absolutely necessary, the essential thing was everything you build on top.

How does the new program structure change that focus for partners?

So the focus will be on competency. And we ask: What competencies do we need to define to help our partners build the right solutions?

We announced 44 different competencies, but there's no magic number in mind. So eventually we may have more, we may have less. If in a year, 10 have very few partners certified, those 10 need to go away. Or if new ones are needed, we will build new ones.

We're giving 11 months to build new competencies, but much of the credits they already have can be applied.

Why are you rolling out a new tier structure to the partner program?

We realized we needed a little more granularity into the program. We moved from three to four levels: Registered, Silver, Gold, Platinum.

If a partner is extremely large, but doesn't have the right competencies and client satisfaction [levels], they'll never be Platinum. Skills and competencies will be published, giving a good line of sight into the skills and competencies they will have acquired.

We believe it's aligned to where the industry is going and the vision of cognitive.

Under the new program, how do partners advance?

Competencies, rather than products, are very much solution-based. In the past you could be best in one product. The solution is broader than one product.

Partners will have to achieve competencies to move up the program. The first competency is client satisfaction. You'll need to achieve this to climb to a high level.

One element of the matrix is also revenue, and that will vary by country.

My goal is simple: Move as many partners as possible to the higher level.

How long has this been in the works?

We decided to build this program a year ago. We have already started to engage with about 50 partners.

What rewards will be added?

We are adding a richer level of support at every level, including extremely competent technical skills support for Platinum partners.

Benefits are something we're still working on, and they will vary a little by country because of different laws. We will build more benefits, more differentiated with more value.

But benefits are not linked to earnings, not more margin at a higher level. That's not how we pay the partner.

Benefits are designed to help partners advance. Every time you pass certification, you get a free voucher for more classes, for more competencies. You can have more people get certifications, or other people growing in competency. We try to provide a number of marketing benefits, like a digital marketing assessment for Silver. At Gold level, we're offering more help in implementing your digital experience. Platinum gives access to a lab advocate, someone very deep in solutions [know-how right] in the development lab.

What else is changing?

Supporting the program is a lot of simplification.

And we have completely, completely redefined our curriculum for PartnerWorld University. Partners want help understanding how they need to invest to be relevant.

How does this all fit in with Watson, and the emerging cognitive platform?

We are not trying to migrate all the existing infrastructure partners to Watson. Many of them never will.

But cognitive gives the opportunity to rethink many industry processes. Most of these projects will be made by small partners, and that's very exciting.