Arrow looks to automate partner-to-partner with social site

HandshakeDistributor Arrow ECS has introduced the Virtual Bench, a social community design to help automate and facilitate partners working together to exchange expertise.

Arrow, like most disties, has been involved in forging partner-to-partner connections for some time, but has mostly done so in an informal role. However, as technology continues to evolve and as solution providers continue to become more specialized, the distributor has seen a real uptick in the number of partners looking to help.

“When you look at a company like IBM, there are very few partners capable of selling the total solutions, getting all the certification and authorizations required,” said Robert Spee, director of software sales and marketing for Arrow ECS’ North American IBM group.

To help meet that need, the distributor introduced Virtual Bench at last week’s IBM Lotusphere event in Orlando, Fla. The site allows solution providers to register a profile that includes regions served as well as technology and vertical specialties and certifications. The site also includes community forums for discussion of various industry-related topics, and the ability to post general “help wanted” messages for partners who are looking for help on a particular opportunity but can’t (or don’t want to) find a partner with the requisite skill sets in the profile listing.

By providing a variety of markets for partners to make connections, Spee said the distributor is hoping to help partners to “search for a partner much earlier in the process.”

Arrow and IBM will also be regulars on the site – both participating in the forums and in the marketplace, which will include services not just from other VARs and solution provider, but also from Arrow’s Fusion services business and from IBM Global Services.

While Arrow is playing matchmaker with Virtual Bench, Spee said it’s looking to pay wedding officiant or counselor – it’s up to the partners involved in a given deal to work out the terms an conditions of their relationship.

Sandy Carter, vice president of social business at IBM’s Lotus business unit, praised Virtual Bench as the first time she’s seen a North American distribution partner offer such a tool. And because it’s built on the company’s Lotus Connections software, it’s a good example of “eating your own dog food.”

“This is built on top of IBM products that [Arrow’s] partners sell every day,” Carter said. “Now Arrow can not just talk about connections and social business, but they’ve become a social business themselves. It gives them credibility. It’s a brilliant move.”

Currently, Virtual Bench is limited to Arrow’s IBM business group, but Spee said the distributor is looking to add its other business units to the site over the course of 2011. Arrow also intends to introduce a rating or ranking system to allow partners to rate their experience working with other solutions providers through Virtual Bench.