IBM Canada focuses on retaining, not recruiting partners

Las Vegas – IBM Corp. is planning considerable growth to the number of partners it works with globally, but the Canadian arm is more interested in maintaining an even number of quality resellers and solution providers.

IBM’s plan is to attract 5,000 new partners within the next year, said Donn Atkins, general manager of global business partners during an address that opened PartnerWorld 2006, being held here this week. The breakdown is as follows: 1,500 new partners in North America, 1,500 in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa), and 2,000 in Asia-Pacific.

Generally speaking, Canada accounts for about 8-10 per cent of IBM’s North American channel, said Gary Issacs, director of business partners for IBM Canada. In terms of Big Blue’s global goals, that should add up to an increase of about 130 partners, but Issacs doubts that number will be attained.

Issacs said IBM Canada typically adds about 70 or 80 new partners a year. It also loses the same number through attrition and de-authorizing partners that don’t meet IBM’s expectations.

”We certainly have had some success recruiting competitive partners, but I would say that recruiting new partners isn’t our first priority,” said Issacs. “Our first priority has been working with our existing partners (and) making sure their skills are up to date.”

Issacs added that the most successful partners, at least in Big Blue’s eyes, are those that can deliver a broad solutions set across IBM’s portfolio.

According to Atkins, partners account for a growing proportion of IBM’s total business –currently 35 per cent, an increase of two per cent over 2005 – and VAR business is outpacing Big Blue’s overall growth.

Issacs said there are approximately 1,500 IBM partners in Canada: 76 premier, 49 advanced, and the remainder are basic members. “We’re not just looking to have thousands of people that have our logo. That’s why we’ve always had an emphasis on certification, education, and understanding the technology.”

But unless IBM makes a bigger impression on some resellers and finds some strength in numbers, it could see itself overshadowed by other vendors, said Dan Hinchey, president of MicroAge Solutions, based in Edmonton.

“There’s over 300 Microsoft partners in Edmonton. I can count the number of IBM partners on one hand. It’s a mindshare game that IBM is not winning,” he said. “That’s a key point for us in business planning: where are they going with software and how are they going to get mindshare?”

But Issacs argued that not all Canadian partners want to see their ranks swelled. “I’m always sensitive to not trying to give our existing partners the feeling that we’re looking to recruit thousands of new partners.”

At PartnerWorld 2006 IBM also said it plans to open as many as 40 new Innovation Centres to act as solutions showcases for customers and drive more collaboration between IBM and its channel. Four new centres have opened in North America in recent months, including one in Toronto run by IBM partner Maxium Solutions.

The spirit of co-operation between IBM and its partner base was behind another announcement at PartnerWorld: the creation of a networking initiative called ValueNet. The idea is to put partners in touch with one another, helping to create relationships between, for example, IBM ISVs, VARs and systems integrators.

“I don’t think that anybody can go it alone and be successful,” said Atkins. “It’s really about parties teaming with IBM and parties teaming with each other.”

Given that Canada is a smaller market, Canadian IBM partners tend to form business relationships more easily than their U.S. neighbours, but levels of co-operation vary regionally, said Issacs. “There’s more co-operation in Montreal, as an example, than there is in Toronto (where) there’s bigger deals. It causes contention.”

IBM PartnerWorld 2006 continues until Thursday.

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