The wave of changes includes a unification of IBM's partner locator portal and a revamp of the overall PartnerWorld website with a new site map and a business partner rating system for IBM products and services.
Many Big Blue partners say it's about time. Company execs have long acknowledged that the computing giant -- once dubbed an elephant by former chairman Lou Gerstner -- is difficult for partners to navigate.
"The IBM.com public website will provide a partner locator for over 100,000 business partners. If they have a profile up, if they've loaded in their information, whether they're a member, advanced or premier partner, users can locate them in their region through a Google mash up. Before [IBM] Software had its own locator, ISVs had their own locator. It's a single worldwide tool now," said Michael Gerentine, vice president of global channel and solutions marketing for IBM.
IBM also pledged to make it easier for partners with valued certifications and skill sets to attain higher levels of margin and market development funds (MDF) even if they don't hit certain revenue levels -- and that is a big deal for VARs that invest in certifications but may not sell software or hardware in bulk.
"The MDF flowing to skills level is very, very important," said Anthony Bongiovanni, president of Micro Strategies Inc. He has already seen a difference there. "IBM is certainly focused on helping business partners with high levels of skills. I've seen our funding go up over the last year and a half. We're in the dynamic infrastructure program, and we have a dedicated marketing organization and we use those dollars to put together better events. So we're able to do things like take [prospective customers] to a Yankees game versus holding something in our facility. That drives more people to the event and we have a lot of time to talk business ."
Dan Fortin, CEO of Relavance, an IBM software partner based in Montreal, agreed that it's very important for VARs to be rewarded for investing time and money in getting important credentials.
Other bullet points of 2010's PartnerWorld improvements is that top-level IBM premier partners -- there are about 2,000 worldwide-- can be assigned an IBM senior-level manager as a point person within the computing giant. This move is similar to what IBM already offers top customer accounts, Gerentine said.
IBM would also like partners with System x hardware practices to develop industry-specific expertise or develop specializations in key, related technologies, like VMware, he said.
And the company will also bulk up the business intelligence reports and analytics it will make available to business partners, Gerentine said, and tailor them more to the partner's individual needs.
IBM, which did not host a single PartnerWorld conference last year, is planning an event for 2011, he said.