Last week I was at IBM’s Impact 2010 – which used to be the company’s show for WebSphere customers but is now being rebranded as the “premier conference for business and IT leaders”. The business track was not my cup of Lapsong Souchong, but RedMonk is more about geeks than suits.
But did the event rock? Well yes it did. The IBM business partner community was particularly well served. Feedback from the channel session I spoke at on Sunday, about how to make money from the Cloud, for example, was really positive. If partner engagement is anything to go by, IBM is capable of making Cloud into an “IBM play” as much as SOA has been. That means significant market share.
When I hung out on on the floor of the solutions center for sponsers I kept getting amazing quotes about the quality of the event. I captured a couple:
Part of the improved vibe at Impact versus other tradeshows may just be timing: the customer’s wallet is emerging from a period of recessionary hibernation. But its also a testament to a new IBM focus on enabling partners.
Apart from exceptions that shatter the rule such as the IBM iSeries franchise Big Blue has traditionally not been good at partnering with volume ecosystems. Too often the IBM sales organisation has “wandered into” partner accounts and taken them direct, cutting out the middleman. Never a good look in the channel.
What’s different about the channel now? Well, Sandy Carter, for starters. Sandy is IBM Software Group’s go to person for cross brand collaboration. When SWG general manager Steve Mills decided he needed to get serious about growing IBM middleware sales through the channel he put Sandy in the Business Partner role. A bit of disclosure is appropriate here- Sandy is a personal friend of mine, and a valued client. I have been advising her on strategy for years. She also takes advice, which is the quickest way to an analyst’s heart. The channel requires clear lines of engagement and a reason for working with IBM. Sandy is helping with both.
One smart move has been to open up new mechanisms for channel partners to work with IBM’s finest- its technical staff, master inventors and so on. Thus Paypal is now working directly with IBM geeks to build out is Cloud-based developer platform.
Cloud architecture certification, rather than IBM middleware certification. Its early days for the program, but any tech tsunami has a channel certification attached – think MCSE, NCE etc. IBM’s decision not to go product based makes perfect sense though. Any cloud certification that doesn’t apply just as well to Amazon Web Services as the IBM Cloud would not be credible.
Sandy has been working on carrots rather than sticks. In the past IBM has tended to push partners to sell cross-brand with what look like penalties for not doing so. IBM now has some compelling math packaged up to explain the economic benefits of working with the firm. Fear of an Oracle planet is also clearly helping IBM in the channel. IBM is investing in vertical industry training programs for partners – another important area for potential margin improvement – around its Industry Frameworks (or apps by any other name as I like to call them).
Of course its not all sweetness and light. Managing a channel is all about managing conflict. But any great trade show has to have happy partners. IBM Impact seems to be in great shape in that respect. Well done to Sandy and Nancy Pearson, who runs WebSphere marketing. I am pretty sure customer and partner satisfaction ratings are going to be high.
disclosure: IBM paid for my T&E and for the speaking engagement on Sunday. Oracle is not a client. I stole the photo above from IBM. Who knows why they made the pictures on flickr all rights reserved.