A Canadian pilot program of IBM’s Global Services division to help partners get access to solutions tailored for small and mid-sized companies has been judged a success.

“Based on how it’s gone it’s going to be expanded to other parts of the world,” a knowledgeable source said in an interview.

The announcement will be made formally at the end of the month at IBM’s annual PartnerWorld conference.

The program involves establishing what Big Blue calls Collaboration Offices, places partners – from VARs to ISVs – can call for help on customer problems they can’t handle.

Staff at the offices specialize in “low-priced, packaged offerings [from Global Services] where there’s not a tonne of customization required,” said the source.

Over the last eight months six offices have been set up in Canada, including two in Toronto and one in Quebec City. “There are plans to do more, based on need,” he said.

It isn’t clear, however, how the partner gets compensated for any business generated.

”If a partner comes in with a lead for a customer engagement or a challenge they want help solving, that can be a catalyst if they [the customer] don’t have an established relationship with IBM,” said the source.

“If they do have a relationship, whatever compensation is overarching in that relationship will apply.”

The idea, said the source, is that IGS is offering a way to work with partners, “and if that happens compensation will be worked out.”

It’s one of a number of ways in which IBM is trying to pull its partners into being an extension of its consulting services.

Another is a program being tested in the U.S. since Jan. 1 aimed at letting IBM hardware partners resell IGS’ hosting services.

Dubbed the E-Business Hosting Services Sales Agent Program, hardware partners can resell IBM hosting services to SMBs and receive a fee.

The program will also be officially announced PartnerWorld, but it isn’t clear whether it will be brought north.

Catherine Melville, an IBM Canada spokesman, said the company is evaluating whether it will be offered here.But two of IBM’s premier Canadian VARs were cautious about the idea.

Dan Hinchey, president of MicroAge Solutions of Edmonton, which offers hosting services of its own, said the fact that the nearest IBM data centre is in Calgary makes it doubtful he’d sign up if asked.

“It doesn’t make sense for us for 95 per cent of the opportunities we run into,” he said.

“For our clients, we’re changing infrastructure all the time and I don’t want to pay IBM to do that. We’d give up too much margin, too much opportunity and too much client control.”

Ross Salvo, president of Montreal-based SIA Service Information Access Inc., said hosting isn’t a core part of the company’s business.

“As a complimentary service to solution providers it makes some sense,” he added, but it’s going to be a reactive thing, not knocking on doors trying to sell the service.”Meanwhile IBM Canada also announced its partners are getting a new program to speed the financing sales to small and mid-sized clients.

The new Financing Advantage program promises to accelerate approvals for deals up to $300,000 from days to hours, said Luc Grenon, Canadian general manager of IBM Global Finance.

“We’ve had a history of SMB financing for many years,” he said, but “we were always trying to force-fit those transactions through our large account processes.”

As a result sometimes it took up to four days to get credit or leasing approval. In addition, the process suffered from multiple pricing schemes and complex contracts.

“It wasn’t fast,” he acknowledged.

The new program has simplified product pricing, and the approval process is now an automated online form partners can fill out. Customers either pass or fail.

“It’s a firm rate,’ he added, “so partners can be very confident when they quote these rates. No one’s going to come back and say ‘Oops, there’s a change.’”

The financing will cover non-IBM products, good news forpartners who offer products from more than one vendor.In most cases approvals can be done within two hours, said Grenon.

“We expect a very high percentage to pass,” he added.In addition, the program does away with the requirement for a ‘certificate of acceptance’ that the customer had received leased product. It’s a time-wasting document partners had to chase, Grenon said.

Instead there will be ‘deemed acceptance’ of delivery confirmed by a phone call five days after product is shipped.

The $300,000 limit was set because 80 per cent of financing deals are less than that amount.

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