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IBM PartnerWorld program reshaped for modern partnerships

IBM redesigned its channel program to better suit partners' increasingly multipronged business models. Partners can now engage IBM in Sell, Build and Service tracks.

IBM has restructured the IBM PartnerWorld program to more tightly align with its broad partner ecosystem and expand beyond reselling motions.

Unveiled at IBM Think Digital this week, the updated channel program adopts a framework of three specialized partner tracks -- Sell, Build and Service. Each track aims to support a different partner business model. The Sell track is designed around IBM's traditional programs for resellers, while the Build track focuses on partners developing offerings on IBM's platform and Service focuses on services providers. According to IBM, the restructured program represents a shift for the company, enabling closer relationships with IBM partners as they collectively pursue the hybrid, multi-cloud market.

"I think it is one of the more significant changes we have undertaken, and it is a real pivot toward getting the ecosystem in behind the hybrid, multi-cloud battle that we are in in the marketplace, and putting our money behind that rather than just words," said David La Rose, general manager of IBM partner ecosystem, in an interview.

Steve White, program vice president of channels and alliances at IDC, said the IBM PartnerWorld program's three tracks recognize that channel businesses no longer thrive by doing one thing.  "Customers are looking for business outcomes. To deliver business outcomes, [partners] have to do more than just resell," he said.

Partners today instead need to build IT solutions, which is what IBM's Build track supports, and bring technologies together into services, supported by the Service track, White said. The trio of tracks let partners "have a much more rounded business model."

David La Rose, general manager of IBM partner ecosystem, IBMDavid La Rose

White added that the revamped IBM PartnerWorld program, while assisting existing IBM partners in the expansion of their business models, also makes it easier for new partners to engage the vendor. "If it is a new partner to IBM, generally they would probably be in [the sell, build and service motions] already [and] would be looking for these [tracks],"" he said. Previously, a new partner engaging IBM would be restricted to using the resell program regardless of the partner's business model.

La Rose said he predicts the Service track will ramp up more slowly than the Build track. "I think many of our partners today have a fairly sophisticated set of service offerings in place, whether it is a managed service offering or whether they are providing basic cloud support offerings. I think we will see they will put their toe in the water and test some of the opportunities we have around the Service track," La Rose said.

Other IBM PartnerWorld program changes

Alongside the new partner tracks, the updated program also features a new incentive structure, which will reward IBM partners for investing in developing bespoke solutions and IP, earning partner competencies, and integrating IBM software and hardware offerings as part of their offerings. IBM is rolling out partner competencies that correspond to each track.

Customers are looking for business outcomes. To deliver business outcomes, [partners] have to do more than just resell.
Steve WhiteProgram vice president of channels and alliances, IDC

IBM also launched Partner Packages to help partners at different skill levels develop and test solutions on the IBM Cloud. Partner Packages bundle IBM Cloud and cognitive benefits such as tech support and certification pathways, IBM said. La Rose noted that the packages target partners ranging from entry-level to advanced skill sets for developing on platforms.

Additional program updates include a new Partner Support Desk, which centralizes support accessible by phone, email or online chat. For the last two weeks of every quarter, the Partner Support Desk will provide "24-by-7 support infrastructure that all partners will have access to," La Rose said.

White said the IBM Partner Support Desk is a particularly valuable resource that partners can use to navigate all things IBM. "Most partners out there are not massive businesses. On average, they might be a 50-person business. To actually work with a big vendor and actually consume [everything] they have is really hard," he said.

Uptake of partner tracks, Red Hat partners

The overhauling of the IBM PartnerWorld program follows IBM's efforts to integrate Red Hat into its portfolio. IBM acquired Red Hat in July 2019 for $34 billion.

Red Hat's partner program will continue to run separately from the PartnerWorld program for the foreseeable future, La Rose said. When IBM bought Red Hat, there was about a 25% to 30% overlap of IBM and Red Hat partners within the vendors' respective ecosystems, he said. The two companies do a "certain amount of cross recruitment," but that the channels operate in a "distinctly different" manner.

With that said, La Rose said the redesigned PartnerWorld program -- and its Build track in particular -- may open more opportunities for Red Hat partners to engage IBM.

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