Top 10 Take-Aways From IBM PartnerWorld 2015

What A Difference A Year Makes

A leaner, meaner IBM emerged this week at the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference. During her keynote address, CEO Ginni Rometty outlined the massive recalibration the company has undergone to focus on cloud, analytics and mobile.

For partners, it was an opportunity to learn more about IBM's reorganization of its channel program and a chance to discuss how they were transforming their businesses among their peers.

Here are the top 10 biggest trends to come out of IBM's PartnerWorld Leadership Conference 2015.

One Channel Team

IBM formally took the wraps off of its new "One Channel Team" channel operations strategy Tuesday, which it says will fuel new growth for an emerging breed of partners via a simpler, more consistent and streamlined channel organization.

IBM business units now include Watson, Security, Cloud, Analytics, Commerce, Systems and Services -- new being Cloud, Commerce and Security. Gone are many of the silos, such as software and STG.

IBM said the revamped channel group more tightly aligns core IBM business units, including SoftLayer, Watson, security, mobile, systems, services and analytics, into a unified channel team.

Partner React To 'One Channel Team'

For partners, the move to a One Channel Team couldn't have come sooner. Chris Gabriel, CTO of Logicalis, a longtime traditional IBM partner that sells System z, Power and analytics solutions, said that IBM's channel was becoming outdated as solutions became more complex, requiring a more horizontal approach to solutions vs. a vertical approach.

Thierry Roux, CEO of QSL Group, a French IBM partner and ISV that does close to 15 percent of its business in North America, said IBM's channel had lacked a unifying structure and the One Channel Team is a welcomed change.

"We'll be watching carefully to see what happens in real life over the next couple of months," Roux said. Bringing all IBM channel teams under one management team would streamline QSL Group's IBM business as well, he said, allowing the company to be more profitable and put more time in going to market with Big Blue solutions as opposed to navigating several different channel incentives across a half-dozen business units.

The Reorg Elephant In The Room

One of the hottest IBM topics discussed at IBM PartnerWorld was hardly mentioned at all by Big Blue executives during keynotes, breakout sessions or in one-on-one interviews. That topic was IBM's huge reorg that preceded the formation of the One Channel Team.

The reorg of IBM matches the One Channel Team's structure, breaking the company into Watson, Security, Cloud, Analytics, Commerce, Systems and Services business groups. As part of the reorg, IBM is for the first time ever bringing its hardware and software businesses under one roof into a Global Business Partner Group. As with the One Channel Team, it's a move designed to push IBM into an age of cloud, big data and analytics.

Rometty Sets Tone For 2015

During her keynote at PartnerWorld, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said IBM had turned the corner of massive changes over the past year, which included divesting its x86 server business and outsourcing its semiconductor business. During her keynote, Rometty gave reasons solution providers should expect growth in the year ahead and promised partners calmer seas, outlining what she sees as partners' biggest opportunities.

Rometty said IBM's solutions from analytics, cloud, security and mobile clearly differentiated themselves from its competitors. She said that IBM's cognitive approach to parsing big data -- a la Watson -- gave partners a competitive advantage in the marketplace. IBM's SoftLayer offers a more agile and secure approach to putting businesses online, she said. She also said partners brought a level of IT subject-matter expertise to solving problems that benefited from the depth of IBM's product portfolio.

Transform Or Wither

The partner mix differed greatly this year compared to last. When IBM sold its commodity x86 server business to Lenovo, it lost about 2,000 partners that sold System x through the channel. But IBM said that, despite a portion of its partner base now aligned more closely with System x brand owner Lenovo, it has seen partner numbers grow by 10,000 over the past year to 150,000 today.

At PartnerWorld, IBM said it had 260 new business partners in attendance.

Over the past year, IBM has focused on recruitment of new business partners, developers and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), who it said deliver solutions aligned with IBM strategic initiatives of cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security.

Transformation Poster Child

At this year's PartnerWorld, there were more synonyms for the words transform, change and evolve flying around than at a self-help weekend retreat. Of course, in the case of IBM, it hopes its partners will transform into a butterfly that, floats like a butterfly, and sting(s) like a bee.

One of those partners IBM singled out was Sirius Computer Solutions, which IBM honored with the Choice Award for Top Business Partner in Growth and Business Transformation.

"We are honored by IBM's recognition of our measurable strides to transform and develop new skills and go-to-market strategies for practice areas such as cloud, big data, and analytics, mobility and security," said Joe Mertens (pictured), president and CEO of Sirius, in a prepared statement. "Transformation and growth keep us relevant to our clients," he said.

Watson Heads To Japan

This week, IBM said its Jeopardy-winning Watson supercomputer was headed to Japan in a partnership with SoftBank, in a move that both hope will grow a Japanese language-based ecosystem of partners and developers around the Watson technology.

In a prepared statement, SoftBank and IBM said its goal was to "bring new apps and services powered by Watson to market in the region, by establishing a broad local ecosystem of partners, entrepreneurs, and app developers who will apply Watson in new and innovative ways."

Previously, IBM also has pledged to teach Watson other languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese.

Channel Still Vital To IBM's Overall Revenue

Speaking at the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said that the channel represents about 20 percent of IBM's overall revenue.

But Marc Dupaquier (pictured), general manager, IBM Global Business Partners, urged partners not to focus on one number when it comes to gauging the importance of the channel to the overall IBM.

Dupaquier told CRN:

"When you average the percentage, it's really meaningless. System x was 85 percent. When you look at our Power business, about half of the revenue is driven by the channel. Storage sees about 50 to 60 percent channel-driven. SoftLayer is about 30 to 40 percent. Other parts of our business do almost no partner business."

Next Generation Of IBM

IBM is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to courting new partners. At PartnerWorld, IBM General Manager, Ecosystem Development and Social Business Evangelist Sandy Carter said IBM's mantra is speed and its mission is to grow its cloud business.

Carter said IBM is on a major offensive to recruit new partner blood, reaching out to solution providers, MSPs, ISVs and startups that align with its "strategic initiatives" of mobile, analytics software and security.

Efforts include programs reaching out to startups less than five years old and offering them incentives such as $100,000 to $150,000 in seed funding in exchange for developing services that will run on IBM environments like SoftLayer.

IBM also has a similar type of incentive program for universities and tech incubators. At PartnerWorld, it hosted a number of millennial-aged IBM business partners from its partner community and brought them together with like-minded and older IBM-ers.

SoftLayer Love Fest

Just weeks after SoftLayer CEO Lance Crosby quietly left IBM, Big Blue's new cloud czar, Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president, Software and Cloud Solutions Group, addressed the PartnerWorld audience.

"SoftLayer is one of the best acquisitions IBM ever made," LeBlanc said. He told channel partners that they must move fast to make the cloud pay off. He said 70 percent of enterprises were currently developing some type of cloud strategy and that 91 percent of apps being built are being built for the cloud.

"The average mobile user checks their phone 150 times a day," LeBlanc said. "Mobile is driving the cloud and the cloud is driving mobile."

To reinforce how IBM is more tightly aligning business units in favor of one that works more horizontally than vertically, LeBlanc said that IBM's cloud and mobile team were now joined at the hip driving new solutions for partners.