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Channel partner programs react to pandemic challenges

Vendors such as IBM, HPE and SAP said they are committed to helping their channel ecosystems weather the economic circumstances wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

IT vendors are responding to the coronavirus pandemic's business impact by lifting requirements in their channel partner programs.

IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) are the latest companies to postpone annual deadlines for earning tier statuses within their partner programs. The measures follow on the heels of similar relief efforts made by vendors such as Cisco and Microsoft.

IBM this week said it is extending its PartnerWorld Program revalidation grace period from May 5, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021, allowing partners keep their program tier statuses and competencies for that duration. IBM will extend additional program deadlines as well, including submissions of competency co-marketing plans.

Other PartnerWorld Program changes included increasing second-quarter incentives for distributors and Power and Storage Competency partners.

IBM is also providing virtual sales tools and training to skill up partners in remote digital selling methods. With travel now limited, partners have been asking IBM for help getting their remote employees engaged and upskilled "both in the techniques of digital [selling] but also in the areas of the [IBM] portfolio," according to David La Rose, general manager of IBM partner ecosystem. La Rose said IBM will continue to build out assets on its online sales enablement platform, Seismic.

To help partners jump-start digital marketing efforts, IBM said it introduced new resources that span digital marketing consultations and a credit of up to $2,000 for partners to build and execute second-quarter campaigns.

Further support from IBM includes free 90-day trials for IBM's cloud and cognitive software products. Comparable offerings are available for IBM's Power, Storage and Linux offerings, La Rose said.

HPE suspends revenue requirements

Meanwhile, HPE suspended HPE Hybrid IT Partner Ready Program revenue thresholds until 2021. The program update protects partners from losing their program status if they fall short of sales targets, according to the company.

The key to prospering in the long term with our partners is making sure that we are flexible in our program and our approach.
Paul HunterWorldwide head of partner sales, HPE

"The key to prospering in the long term with our partners is making sure that we are flexible in our program and our approach," said Paul Hunter, worldwide head of partner sales at HPE. "We don't want them worrying about whether they are going to lose their membership status because they miss a revenue threshold. ... They can stop wasting any undue energy on that concern and focus on their customers."

While HPE is pausing the revenue thresholds, the vendor deemed it critical to keep the current sales and technical competency requirements in place. Hunter said that HPE partners "need to continue to be proficient, skillful and expert in addressing customer needs."

To help partners reach their competency goals, HPE will expand its digital learning and upskilling tools in the next couple of months. The HPE Sales Pro Learning Center, a platform for developing skills for selling consumption-based propositions and solutions, will exit pilot phase and become generally available to partners in May, Hunter noted.

Other HPE COVID-19 relief resources include free use of its service management software, Integrated Lights-Out Advanced, which HPE partners and customers can use to remotely configure, monitor and update HPE services. The software, which was previously available in 60-day free trials, will remain free for the rest of 2020, according to HPE.

SAP introduces resiliency measures

SAP also eased aspects of its channel partner program.

Cathy Daum, SAP's senior vice president of go-to-market and scale partnerships, global partner organization, told SearchITChannel that the company has set up an internal task force to deal with the pandemic at global and regional levels. "Together with some colleagues, I am coordinating that [effort] to see how we can alleviate some of the challenges that our partners are facing in these unprecedented times," she said.

In addition to protecting partners' tier statuses within the SAP PartnerEdge program, SAP rolled out new virtual learning and certification offerings. Resources include vouchers for 20 hours of free SAP S/4HANA Consultant Training, as well as subsidies for training and certifying new consultant hires.

Daum said SAP is working with partners "to help them to hire new consultants from higher education." Despite the pandemic, some SAP partners are looking to hire. She noted that SAP observed an uptick on the consultant hiring "particularly in Asia and China, where they are coming a little bit out of the crisis."

"We are offering subsidies to partners to help them bring these new hires in from university and then put them through [SAP's] training mechanisms," she said.

Other changes have been introduced to PartnerEdge benefits. For example, partners can now spend market development funds (MDF) more flexibly, Daum noted. Additionally, the MDF expiration date has been extended from Oct. 31 to Dec. 18, 2020, "to give partners more time to be able to consume those funds."

SAP also set up an online community for partners to share their free software offerings. "Partners can ... post their own free software or COVID-19-centric applications as part of their contribution to the fight against this pandemic," Daum said. Examples of partners' offerings include SAP's health and safety software customized for the coronavirus situation. "There is really a myriad of applications and ideas coming in from our partners."

SAP is extending free access to select products from its own software portfolio, as well, including supply chain application Ariba Discovery and Remote Work Pulse, a remote work readiness assessment tool.

Cisco, Fortinet add extra time to re-certify

Cisco has extended deadlines for renewing certifications, a critical element of partner program participation. The current limitations on travel and physical meetings -- and uncertainty on when those activities might resume -- makes it difficult for channel partners to take proctored tests and other recertification steps.

"We know [partners] aren't going to be able to travel or sit for exams and have auditors come in and examine the capabilities we ask our partners to maintain," said Marc Surplus, vice president of strategy, planning and programs for Cisco's Global Partner Organization.

In response, Cisco has extended the renewal dates for partners holding Cisco certifications, specializations, authorizations and Cloud and Managed Service Program designations. Partners with renewal dates between March 16, 2020 and September 16, 2020 will be given one-year extensions.

"It's really about protecting the investment the partners have made in their Cisco practices," Surplus said.

Cisco has also made accommodations for its Solution Provider Partners, which build Cisco-compatible offerings. The company has extended the renewal deadline as well as solution compatibility re-certification and re-testing by six months.  

Jon Bove, vice president of the Americas channel at Fortinet, a cybersecurity vendor based in Sunnyvale, Calif., said the company is going to be relaxing partner program requirements, particularly when it comes to training for compliance certification. Compliance certification is the path Fortinet partners follow to achieve different partner program levels. He said requirements will be relaxed for a 6-month window.

The goal is to "make sure we put customers and partners in a position to be as successful as possible," Bove said. "We are doing what we can to aid both parties

Additional reporting by John Moore.

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