IBM's plan to help unite its diverse business-partner base will be among the key themes at the company's big PartnerWorld conference next week in Atlanta.
About 4,000 business partners are expected to attend the annual meeting, during which IBM outlines its alliance strategy for the year and typically announces new programs.
Last year's event focused on the inclusion of "non-traditional" partners such as Web integrators within IBM's partnering strategy. The focus on emerging business models will continue this year, but IBM also will make partnering among the partners a top priority.
"What we really have to do now is facilitate partners working together," says Angelica Horaitis, VP of Global Channels Marketing at IBM. She adds that bringing partners together is "one of the most important things we need to accomplish."
IBM's partner roster these days includes not only traditional product resellers, but also "influencers" that specify products but don't take title to them. "We are trying to reach out to a variety of partners, including influencers," Horaitis says.
IBM also counts an array of service providers-ISPs, ASPs and the like-among what Horaitis calls its "new audience mix." IBM even cultivates alliances with its partners' partners. For example, IBM seeks to link with the allies of its software vendor partners, which includes such companies as PeopleSoft and Siebel Systems. IBM vowed in 1998 to stay out of those companies' high-end application market.
IBM's goal is to make connections among those partners that, in turn, can bring together the various elements of complex e-business solutions. The company already has taken steps in this direction, creating a partner database and hosting partnering events across the country.
More such efforts are likely, industry observers say, because the ability to maintain networks of partners has become increasingly critical for companies like IBM. "I think relationship building is more important than the technology," says Sam Albert, president of Sam Albert Associates, a consulting firm. "It's become the differentiator for vendors."
Vendors ranging from hosting companies to hardware makers are vying to become the hub of extensive partner networks. In theory, the company that runs a well-connected network will attract customers with a comprehensive solution and drive its product and service sales in the process.
But that's easier said than done. And large IT companies of the IBM variety have the challenge of their own size and scale with which to contend. IBM has some 95,000 business partners. And the task of forming a one-to-one alliance with IBM is challenging enough, says Gary Ryan, president of Alliance Management Resources Inc. Ryan says he represented a client who wanted to partner with IBM in the small- and midsize-business space. The connection ultimately was made, but the process took several days.
"Trying to find the right person-out of 200,000-to facilitate an alliance with is extremely difficult," he says.
Indeed, IBM has a job on its hands. But then matchmaking has never been easy.
Same Cast, New Roles
IBM's partner executive lineup has changed quite a bit in recent months. Starting at the top, Peter Rowley replaces Buell Duncan as general manager of IBM's Global Business Partners program. Rowley, who was appointed in November, was formerly general manager of IBM's Global Midmarket business.
Duncan became general manager of IBM's eServer iSeries business.
In other changes, Angelica Horaitis earlier this year was named VP of Global Channels Marketing at IBM. She reports to Rowley. Ian Bonner, formerly VP of marketing for Global Business Partners, is now VP of development for Global Business Partners, a role that spans all business-partner categories. Bonner also reports to Rowley.
Reporting to Horaitis is Anne Smith, VP of systems integrators and Web integrators. Mark Hanny, who had been responsible for Web integrators, is now VP of worldwide channel marketing for IBM's software group. Also reporting to Horaitis are Lucy Newsome, director of ISV Value Net sales; Art Baron, marketing manager of emerging technology; Randy Filinski, program director of Linux; and Don Daughters, director of global sector marketing.