SOAs, Channel-Building To Take Center Stage At IBM PartnerWorld

IBM plans to push service-oriented architecture enablement for midsize companies and foster partner profitability across the board at its annual PartnerWorld bash this week. (Courtesy: CRN)

March 13, 2006

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IBM plans to push service-oriented architecture enablement for midsize companies and foster partner profitability across the board at its annual PartnerWorld bash this week.

In a bid to help partners gain expertise in SOA—the latest buzzword-laden technology in the spotlight—IBM is making available for download technical materials and free code in the form of WebSphere Community Edition.

“We want to provide zero barrier to entry,” said Sandy Carter, vice president of IBM’s WebSphere. “You don’t have to register to get references, technical materials and code. We want to make it easy to get access to SOA materials,” she said.

IBM also is adding a new SOA specialty with two levels of participation to its PartnerWorld Industry Networks. One requires the partner to train and certify one person in SOA-related matters. Another invitation-only tier will require partners to commit to a certain level of revenue as well as technical goals and five certifications, Carter said.

IBM Software, Somers, N.Y., has already acknowledged it will talk up several new Solution Builder Express packages that pull together tools, business process know-how and methodologies intended to help partners assist midmarket clients in creating services-based infrastructures.As already reported, the company also will highlight partner enablement and goals around its upcoming DB2 database. This next release, which is code-named Viper and melds relational and nonrelational capabilities, is due this summer.

More broadly, IBM is addressing long-running complaints about channel conflict with a new deal-registration system and sales incentive plan that aims to reward partners that find, develop and/or fulfill software sales.

The triple goals of the new Software Value Incentive plan are to reward value provided throughout the entire sales cycle, to offer and enforce deal registration, and to make IBM easier to do business with, Neil Isford, vice president of worldwide business partner sales at IBM Software, told CRN last week.

In the program, to take effect April 1, a partner that finds a deal, specs out the solution, and/or fulfills the license sale will get margin points for all of those things.

“If we discover the opportunity, develop it and fulfill it, we can enjoy a bigger bottom line and won’t be in danger of some discounter coming in and undercutting us,” said Troy Webb, managing partner at Incentric Solutions, a Morrisville, N.C.-based integration partner.Total margins on deals can range from 40 percent to even 50 percent, depending on circumstances, although that money often will be divvied up among partners that play different roles in winning the same business, partners said.

Scott Severson, vice president of systems and storage at Berbee Information Networks, a Madison, Wis.-based integrator with offices throughout the Midwest, said complex technology sales are prone to conflict, regardless of vendor.

“Our issue with the software model in the past was we’d engage with the customer and really dive down, architect a solution, spend three to 12 months and, in a growing number of situations, we’d spec out the software. But when the deal gets to the purchasing person—guess what? It goes out to bid. The model in 2005 did not recognize or reward partners like Berbee for making that [presales] investment,” Severson said.

If a partner identifies an opportunity and registers it, IBM will ensure that the deal hasn’t been claimed and notify the partner within five days. Then, that partner will get 20 points of margin even if the software sale itself goes direct, Isford said.

IBM has had deal registration on the hardware side, and Oracle has had a system in place for a few years. But there are often logistical issues. Oracle VARs complain of instances when they register a net new opportunity at a given company, only to be told that Oracle has a pre-existing relationship with that company that nullifies the registration. In IBM Software’s case, there are no “house accounts,” Isford said.

“Our system is open to customers of every size. The partner may register an opportunity at Citibank, and we will check our CRM system to see if we are working on that deal. If we are, the partner will not get the 10 points for identifying the deal but can still get points on the sale,” he noted. “Or the IBM team may be in Citibank but not know anything about that particular opportunity so the partner would get the points for identifying it.”IBM, like Microsoft and Oracle, is trying to figure out how to build profitability for a range of partners from small VARs to huge integrators and large-account resellers.

Two years ago, IBM Software irked large-account software resellers by cutting their discounts on volume license or Enterprise License Agreement deals.

Some larger resellers said then that the software group favors smaller VARs and solution providers that work in the midmarket over enterprise-type resellers. They attributed that both to IBM’s focus on winning more SMB business and to IBM’s segmenting the market by pushing enterprise sales to select large channel players, including IBM Global Services.

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