From the vendor perspective, the motivation is clear: As data centers morph into the cloud computing model, they want to tighten their grip on legacy accounts and win new customers investing in transformative technologies including virtualization and converged networking.
"We're in the middle of an incredible convergence," said John Breakey, CEO of network integration firm Unis Lumin Inc., Oakville, Ontario. "When you have an emerging technology like this, the vendor will take a more active role. They will insist on co-work with the advanced customers, because [those customers] are taking a big risk."
Clay Hales, president and CEO of InfoSystems Inc., a midmarket solution provider in Chattanooga, Tenn., frequently collaborates with IBM's services team, says the complexity of these engagements should not be underestimated. Another tough thing about collaborative service delivery arrangements is figuring out how to find and navigate the right internal contacts within these huge IT vendors.
But Hales said it would take his company years to develop some of the resources otherwise available to InfoSystems' customers through collaboration. "I believe these relationships will continue to get better," Hales said. "I have already seen the evidence at IBM. They are really working at how to make this better."
Converged hardware changes rules of engagement
The challenge for these vendors – most notably Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and IBM – is to keep partners targeting desirable midmarket accounts happy and loyal, while assuring technology transitions progress as smoothly as possible.
Karl Meulema, senior vice president of Cisco Services, said his group is intently focused on what the company calls "transformational" customers – a set of approximately 500 organizations from both the commercial and public sector that see technology as a key differentiator and driver of business innovation.
Cisco Services will participate in these accounts to ensure successful deployments of advanced technologies, he said. "We are not changing what we stand for as a services organization," Meulema said. "We are not taking a different route. What we are doing is putting [a] stake in the ground in collaboration. We are becoming a little more black and white to ensure that people don't go out of bounds."
Partners will be chosen to help in these accounts on the basis of their technology specializations and their investment in a new services specialization that is supposed to be phased in over coming months. Cisco is developing what it calls the Teaming Incentive Program to encourage more effective partner-to-partner collaboration.
Elite VARs encouraged to apply
Pam Lach, director of marketing at HP Technology Services, Americas, says while HP is expanding its internal sales coverage for services, outsourcing and consulting deals, it is spending a similar amount of time discussing how to include certified HP solution providers in as many relevant accounts as possible.
"We have mapping discussions with our key partners," Lach said. "This is part of our overall engagement with our partners. There are a lot of investments that we are making to go to market collaboratively."
This includes recruiting additional partners with certain skills sets, notably virtualization and converged networking design, and encouraging others to up their game in terms of HP technology specializations. As far as which partners HP will ask to go to market collaboratively, priority will be given to the partners that generate the most HP services sales volume, although there is "no black and white answer to mapping discussions," Lach said.
It's worth noting the distinction between HP Technology Services, which includes HP-branded service and support offerings, and HP Enterprise Services, the former EDS consulting unit mainly focused on developing outsourcing deals and cloud services. In June, HP announced a $1 billion infrastructure investment related to Enterprise Services.
William Loupakos, vice president of professional services for American Digital Corp., an HP-exclusive solution provider in Arlington Heights, Ill., said HP's services capabilities augment his team's coverage gaps. "We work actively with our HP services manager, where we actually review our pipeline and forecast and talk around each opportunity," Loupakos said.
Laura Rossiter, a business development and global channels sales executive with IBM Global Technology Services, says IBM's services rules of engagement call for it to develop collaborative working relationships around solution providers with industry expertise in specific midmarket segments.
"We're putting extra money, extra resources and extra focus around partners in the midmarket," Rossiter said.
The reality is that midmarket businesses want to buy from local IT services providers, she said, so it is IBM's goal to make it as simple as possible for potential customers to connect with IBM business partners. That means more co-selling and more co-delivering, she said.
IT services collaboration: We're in this together
Data center and networking VARs and systems integrators are resigned to the idea that relationships with vendor services arms are increasingly likely, given the complex nature of the technologies involved.
INX, a data center solution provider in Houston, has minimized the impact of this shift on its services revenue and margin by developing new intellectual property focused on what it describes as "operational readiness" for complex infrastructure—diverse infrastructures made up of technologies that aren't necessarily from the same product vendor.
Jonathan Groves, vice president of professional services for INX, says key hallmarks of these services include business continuity management, the ability to prove (and improve) return on investment from infrastructure investment, and the ability to help businesses deploy applications more quickly.
"It comes down to deploying consistent IT services versus a certain service level agreement. We are seeing more and more requests for the ability to charge back," he said. "This is a world of opportunity that the vendors can't address."
John Miller, vice president of sales for Paragon Development Systems Inc., an integrator in Oconomowoc, Wis., says his team assesses every customer opportunity for the potential services involved and decides before approaching prospects whether or not he will represent branded vendor services in given situations. His key determining factors are quality, speed of delivery and price. "If we're doing things right, we're collaborating before we're even proposing something," Miller said.