Continuing its effort to get more independent software vendors to port their applications to its middleware, IBM has expanded its year-old PartnerWorld industry networks to include the government and insurance sectors.

The move, announced this week, expands the number industries ISVs can join

from six to eight to receive technical, sales and marketing support for coming under Big Blue’s umbrella.

It’s making a big push to help boost sales of IBM hardware and middleware, particularly in small and medium businessess.

Competitors such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Micrososystems are also hunting ISVs to become partners.

The other sectors in IBM’s network are banking, retail, telecommunications, financial, healthcare and life sciences.

One of the hooks of the latest announcement is the promise of free access to IBM’s innovation centres for business partners, one of which is located at the edge of Toronto.

However, Canadian software companies ought to move fast: The offer is open to the first 100 ISVs worldwide who sign up. After that they’ll have to pay a fee.

One Canadian company who praises the strategy is DWL Inc. of Toronto, who took advantage of it to break its consumer hub into the U.S. banking industry.

The company’s original application was well-known in the insurance industry, said Steve Leightell, DWL’s director of business development. So banks shrugged when it knocked on their doors. Then it joined the Big Blue’s partner banking sector last year.

“”Being blessed as the operational data store for IBM’s banking industry network immediately gave us the credibility we needed to say we’re insurance banking no longer just in insurance,”” he said. “”In most cases that was enough.””

As a sector member it was also able to use IBM briefing centres across the U.S. to host pitches to potential customers.

The resources have been “”huge in advancing our client base to include Tier 1 banks,”” said Leightell.

As a result, it has been an early tester of the new insurance sector, seeking more opportunities for its products. Among the services IBM is performing is helping to port a DWL application to its zSeries mainframe.

Another ISV expanding from the banking network is PureEdge Solutions Inc. of Victoria, which makes XML-based forms for automatically gathering data. It’s joined both the new government and insurance sectors, said Paul Chan, the company’s vice-president of marketing.

“”It’s helped us get access to a bunch of resources and knowledge,”” he said in an interview. “”IBM has done a lot of research on banking customers’ needs, which helps you define your value proposition to sell into the market.””

According to IBM, nearly 600 ISVs in 43 countries have already joined the networks. As members they can not only use the innovation and briefing centres, they can also market solutions through IBM and other partner sales teams.

The idea is to give ISVs help to target industries with technical, sales and marketing assistance, said Shelley Lowe, a business unit executive for solutions and integrators at IBM Canada.

Although DWL is a sizeable company – its headquarters is now in Atlanta, with reserach and marketing based in Toronto – Leightell said small ISVs would also see advantages to joining the IBM network. “”A small company would see huge benefits by very quickly enabling their software on an IBM platform and getting a very strong brand associated with their name.””

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