IBM channel chief: 2015 vision a partner differentiator

Rich Hume IBM

IBM channel chief Rich Hume

While the company’s Watson artificial intelligence engine got a lot of the attention at its PartnerWorld Leadership Conference last week for its stellar performance on the game show Jeopardy!, it’s not the company’s technology or research that IBM’s channel chief sees as its biggest differentiator with partners.

It may seem a little bit less sexy, but it’s no less important – Rich Hume described the company’s 2015 vision as its biggest differentiator.

“They have a clear vision for where we’re going for the next five years, and that’s allowing them to think longer term about their business models and where they want to go with IBM,” Hume told press and analysts at the event in Orlando.

First articulated last spring by IBM CEO Sam Palmisano, the company’s 2015 roadmap calls for the company to double its earnings to $20 per share by that year, to generate $100 billion in cash flow between now and then, and drop $20 billion on acquisitions along the way. And the company wants its partners to know there’s opportunities for them in there too.

To achieve those substantial goals, IBM will focus on four big bets:

  • Growth markets: the rapid improvement of developing markets to developed markets.
  • Analytics: The growth in the need for business to understand what’s going on in real-time was held up by Palmisano as the company’s biggest opportunity at PartnerWorld.
  • Data centre and cloud: Two areas of focus for just about every technology player early in this decade.
  • Smarter Planet: Ties together the other three priorities, but with more of a social theme of solving some of world’s biggest problems through technology.

Hume said the company has “maniacal” focus on simplicity, growth and profitability, and that those focuses extend not just to the company’s own product lines but to its channel policy.

About a year ago, IBM made the adjustment to hand over its midmarket business to be exclusively channel-led, allowing its own resources to focus on new opportunities in the enterprise, particularly when it comes to Smarter Planet. The company cemented that decision by adding midmarket responsibility to Hume’s own role as global channel chief at the company. Hume said that decision has been backed by investments to back up partners with co-marketing and other supports, and that its channel-first midmarket strategy is going well.

“We feel really good about our midmarket organization today and moving into the future,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of where this channel ecosystem is today.”

Moving forward, Hume suggested that training and education would be priorities for Big Blue and its partners as both sides “are going to require a different set of skills and capabilities going forward.” Particularly changing, he suggested, is the era of isolated silos of infrastructure providers and software providers that have typically made up the company’s broader channel.

Hume said that growth would come from a variety of partner-to-partner type activities that will be necessitated by the solutions focus of the 2015 priorities in the marketplace. For example, he foresees a lot of infrastructure VARs and Cognos consultants coming together (either by partner-to-partner work or merger and acquisition) to deliver analytics solutions.