As IBM prepares to implement its largest channel overhaul in years, partners have been conferring all week at the Think conference in Las Vegas with Big Blue's leadership, and each other, to ready themselves to take advantage of the program changes.
The revamped PartnerWorld program, revealed in January and going into effect next month, is being met enthusiastically by attendees of the PartnerWorld summit that's part of the larger conference, Jacqueline Woods, chief marketing officer for IBM Global Business Partners, told CRN USA.
Partners had long been clamouring for a streamlined structure that breaks down barriers across partner categories and products—one that better aligns with the evolution they have seen in their practices to delivering comprehensive solutions that often include components they've developed themselves.
The "2018 new generation ecosystem strategy," which goes live 10 April, pares down IBM's channel structure to five distinct tracks, dramatically reducing the complexity of engaging with the technology stalwart.
IBM partly achieved that by marrying tracks for hardware and software resellers, which made a lot of sense given partners were typically selling integrated solutions.
Strict categorisations defining partner business models have also been abandoned, she said.
"We're seeing business partners don’t neatly fit into one category," Woods told CRN USA. "They're not just a reseller or ISV or cloud service provider or MSP or systems integrator."
Partners these days wear many hats, she said, often "depending on who they're talking to and the solution that they're selling."
IBM's new channel strategy looks to support the broader changes in the ecosystem across all program elements—metrics, margins, reimbursement, co-marketing, training and enablement tools.
"Our ability to offer models that can easily help a partner navigate between those specific types of business models is critically important," Woods said. "I think the advantage of what we have now is we're offering companies a number of different types of ecosystems that they can participate in."
The new program also was designed to encourage partners to embed IBM's next-gen products, especially cloud, data, analytics, and Watson artificial intelligence.
One of the biggest changes in recent years to Big Blue's channel is that many traditional resellers have become de facto ISVs—developing and bundling their own intellectual property.
Technology partners are no longer the only ones taking advantage of IBM's longtail ISV program, Woods said, which enables developers embedding IBM solutions with cloud credits and a development sandbox.
IBM is investing $80 million dollars across 2,200 partners driving 12,000 campaigns annually, Woods said.
Another imminent change that has been met with enthusiasm by partners comes in the reimbursement process.
"They used to have put their leads in in order for reimbursement to happen," Woods said.
That could be challenging, especially for small companies for whom cash flow was critically important.
"It takes time to generate pipeline, time to generate leads, so that's not a condition of them being reimbursed anymore," she said.
Partners now only need to provide proof of performance of an approved activity.
"They can get their money back more quickly," Woods said.