The channel partner ecosystem plays a key role in the growth strategy of organizations and helps in penetrating the breadth and depth of the market by offering strategic industry-specific digital capabilities. Studies have found time and again that businesses with high engagement in ecosystems report much greater contribution to revenue from innovation than businesses with low-to-moderate ecosystem engagement.
In the Covid-19 scenario, where, organizations around the world are re-evaluating their IT strategy in the short and medium term, it becomes important for tech companies to work with a robust ecosystem of partners to accelerate the development and delivery of solutions to clients and at the same time improve the partner’s end-to-end experience. In a recent interaction with CXOToday, Lata Singh, Executive Director – IBM Partner Ecosystem for India/South Asia, explains the Post-Covid challenges for partners and how the channel ecosystem is expected to help CIOs embrace new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and hybrid cloud by offering consulting services and handhold them in their transformation journey.
What according to you are some of the key challenges for the partners in a Post COVID world?
The initial challenge for channel partners during Covid was to ensure business continuity while maintaining financial stability. They also had to relook at their resource allocation in order to serve clients better while working remotely. The crisis underscored the need for a more comprehensive digital transformation agenda for enterprises that includes effective implementation of hybrid cloud & AI solutions with enterprise grade security that allows data and insights to be delivered anywhere. Companies were forced to accelerate their digital adoption plans overnight, that introduced greater complexity requiring a spectrum of new skills and offerings that implementation partners needed to acquire. One of the key current challenges for partners is to improvise their skilling and knowledge sharing initiatives to better serve their end customers.
Partners today realize that the new normal of doing business will generate more revenue streams and business opportunities, but the difficulty lies in creating an effective business strategy to capitalize on this. Partners also need to balance the existing revenue streams while focusing on more nascent tech that is already promising huge returns in the coming future. To stay relevant, they must evolve quickly and need to look beyond just being a product reseller to reselling solutions that meet business objectives.
What initiatives is IBM taking to bridge the skill gap for channel partners?
IBM believes in empowering its partners and providing resources in order to gain unmatched expertise in their field and thereby differentiate themselves in a competitive market. IBM Business partners receive all the requisite tools and training to excel in their industry from the IBM PartnerWorld, irrespective of whether they are new or existing members. We have launched a series of enablement webinars to develop the partners’ program, offering and digital selling skills. Similarly, the “Skills for Deals’” program for Security, allows partners to follow technical skills development programs at no additional cost.
IBM Training and certifications is designed to validate these skills and capability to perform role-related tasks and activities at a specified level of competence. It offers one the opportunity to earn credentials to demonstrate their expertise. IBM is also providing access to key Virtual Selling Tools in order to help partners shift from in-person to remote digital selling. This is in addition to providing resources to plan/prospect and progress leads; and run a digital workshop with the Digital Technical Engagement team.
We have recently made significant changes to our PartnerWorld program, which was developed for any business that wants to partner with IBM. In addition to the new PartnerWorld framework, we recently launched the public cloud ecosystem initiative, which will support onboarding to the IBM Financial services-ready public cloud where participating ISVs and SaaS providers receive guidance through a prescriptive implementation and evidence process to deliver their offerings.
Can you throw some light on the latest features of the PartnerWorld program?
IBM PartnerWorld program was revamped to better suit partners’ increasingly multipronged business models. The newly revamped PartnerWorld program, will enable the ecosystem to navigate three specialized tracks — Build, Service and Sell— designed to help provide flexibility in this ever-changing, digitally-reliant world.
The Program accelerates partner’s success by helping them, find new ways to capture market opportunity around the shift to cloud while co-creating growth, innovation and value. The program empowers IBM Business Partners with the skills, benefits and offers they need to deliver value that matters most for their clients.
IBM nurtures an ecosystem of global Business Partners that operate in more than 170 countries. In the recently revamped program, partners choose to work with IBM to access the broadest technology portfolio in the industry, tap into the most secure cloud for business, connect with a sought-after network of clients and partners and grow their businesses with IBM PartnerWorld.
How can the partner ecosystem help in the acceleration of emerging tech like AI, Cloud, Blockchain, among others?
The pandemic has caused some tectonic shifts in customer behavior across geographies.Emerging ttechnologies like cloud, AI, IoT and blockchain are enabling organizations to tap into huge streams of untapped data, derive insights to make better business decisions and bring in a whole new level of efficiency and scale into the system to cater to an ever changing consumer demand. In this scenario, it’s become imperative for channel partners to quickly upskill them and help their customers in adopting them to accelerate their digital transformation journey with minimal business disruption.
Now, more than ever, there is a need to co-create and co-innovate to help clients understand the impact of digital transformation on business and society and build an outcome-focused response that will help them emerge smarter.
For example, Tata Consultancy Services and IBM recently announced the expansion of their 15-year global alliance to help clients accelerate their digital and cognitive enterprise transformations to IBM public cloud using IBM Cloud Paks. In the last 6-8 months, we have strengthened our collaboration with the best of breed GSIs – TCS, Wipro, HCL Technologies, Tech Mahindra and ISVs to help their customers embark on a seamless and secure hybrid cloud journey. The most recent was Wipro, by which they will expand their IBM Hybrid Cloud Practice to help their customers modernize their digital operations across hybrid cloud environments by leveraging IBM Cloud Paks.
How IBM is training specialist partners on technologies such as AI/ML, blockchain and cloud?
IBM’s channel team is focusing on encouraging partners to gain expertise in tech like hybrid cloud, security and AI as well as emerging technologies like blockchain. With the right skills, our partners can lead the discussions with the clients on their transformation journey. We are also providing our partners with expanded digital marketing capabilities and offering additional financial incentives for solution providers and distributors, in addition to flexible financing options for customers.
With the continuing shift to hybrid and multi-cloud environments, we are seeing more than half of our partners expanding their business models—increasingly building custom applications, integrating their own IP into a solution stack, and introducing unique services capabilities.
Keeping with this, IBM has re-engineered its channel program to prepare partners for a future of building custom solutions based on emerging tech like AI, block chainetc. and delivering integrated hybrid cloud services. IBM is also providing virtual sales tools and training to skill up partners in remote digital selling methods.
What is IBM’s Channel partner roadmap for the next 12-18 months?
Our channel partner strategy in India is 3 pronged for the coming months:
- Enabling our business partners with skills to address client needs
- Engaging with them to address new customer requirements
- Empowering them by identifying new revenue streams to be added to their offering.
The IBM channel partner strategy aims to develop, support and reward our business partners as they build capabilities to serve. We are invested in building skills and competencies that will bring better monetization for partners as well as accelerating the development and delivery of technology solutions to our clients.
The ecosystem has broadened beyond the regular ecosystem that we would consider as OEMs or IT service providers. Platformization of businesses will also lead to change in the way IT is consumed by organizations and how different players will satiate this consumption. Co-creation and collaboration among different players in the ecosystem to capitalize of their synergies will be the way forward.