The latest series of programs and incentives IBM Corp. is pouring into the channel appear to be greasing the wheels of its larger effort to turn much of IBM's software sales into channel-enabled services-oriented architecture (SOA) projects.
Today's edition included the expected announcement that IBM is certifying VARs for SOA. The program called "Ready for SOA" is designed to assure potential customers that an integrator or value-added reseller (VAR) in IBM's Business Partner SOA Specialty practice has sufficient business-process management and application-development skills to handle a complex SOA project.
IBM also revealed new incentives for the channel, including an increase in the advertising-rebate plan it offers higher-level partners. The company will rebate to a VAR as much as $4,000 for ads booked before Dec. 15, though they don't all have to run by then, according to an IBM spokeswoman.
It will also supply materials and support for what it calls Joint SOA Solution Galleries -- facilities to be set up and maintained by partners that contain demonstration copies of SOA packages, onsite support and other resources for pre- and post-sales customer support. It will launch a series of wikis that business partners can use to exchange technical information and recruit partners of their own, and release enhancements to the SOA Business Solutions Catalog that will make it easier for partners and customers to identify SOA components that perform functions they need.
The series of services announcements and events started almost two weeks ago with IBM reorganizing many of its products and sales operations to focus on SOA development rather than straight product sales.
It's a way to put together dozens of middleware, Web services and integration products into a coherent package that's easy to understand and eventually buy, according to Susan Eustis, president of Wintergreen Research, an analyst firm in Lexington, Mass. that has researched the growth of SOA.
Though IBM and other vendors have been developing the technology behind SOA for several years, they haven't packaged either the technology or the concept neatly enough to make it take off, she said.
"SOA has been a very successful acronym, way beyond what anybody expected," Eustis said. "It's understandable. These little modules are something you can get your mind around. Even the front-office guys can see the benefit of connecting your backend software to Office or whatever you're using. And it's flexible. You can change it on the fly. That's an easy benefit to see."
The product packaging, especially the WebSphere Registry and Repository WebSphere Process Server and other components, make SOA components easy to identify and assemble into a larger applications, according to Andrew Redmond, director of business development for rules-management software developer ILOG, Inc. in Mountain View, Calif. That takes most of the work out of complex enterprise-level application integration.
IBM is well-positioned to take advantage of any interest in SOA, and to give the channel a concrete set of products to sell, even compared to companies like SAP, Oracle Corp. and Salesforce.com, that are also marketing SOA heavily, according to Chris Curran chief technology officer at Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc.
Whether it's better for an integrator or VAR to work with IBM or another vendor depends largely on which vendor the VAR or its customers are already working with The SOA concept itself isn't enough to uproot existing installations or loyalties, Curran said.
But IBM has been working hard to bring ISVs and other channel partners into the sales process, even when it means having the direct sales force call a partner into a deal developed completely by IBM's own people, Redmond said. That counts for a lot.
"I look at the deals coming in [to ILOG] and IBM has a part in a lot of them, either because the leads come from listings on IBM facilities, or people call up and ask for us, or [IBM] people call in from the field and our people go in with them for a joint sale," he said. "IBM is touching the majority of our deals in one way or another."
"Six months ago only the techies knew what SOA was," Redmond said. "Now even the business people realize you don't have to outsource application integration; you can do it yourself."