IBM PartnerWorld kicked off with a show resembling an unholy alliance between the Millennium Dome sky-ballet and those all-singing, all-dancing Gap clothing adverts. The San Diego conference centre played host to a horde of resellers last week, tapping their feet to IBM's 'E-business Rap' as acrobats swung from the ceiling and cavorted on stage.
But Lou Gerstner, chief executive of IBM, who did not attend the event, quickly dampened down the party atmosphere by moving on to more serious business issues in his video address.
Gerstner said VARs are worried about how to survive in "a world increasingly direct and online", and acknowledged the "threat" from vendors turning into services companies.
But Gerstner added: "There has never been a better time to be in this business," and predicted customers are "poised to unleash huge pent-up demand after Y2K".
IBM's annus horibilis
Buell Duncan, general manager of global business partners, said 1999 had not been a great year for IBM. IBM executives spoke enviously about Sun's strength in web-servers and noted that 80 per cent of its sales come from existing customers.
IBM was at pains to convince it is coming out fighting. Three times resellers were exhorted to "get out there and kick some butt!" Sun, EMC and, to a lesser extent, Dell were identified as the butts in question. Sam Palmisano, senior vice-president of IBM server group and heir to the IBM throne, said: "We're going to train a killer force to go after EMC, because we're sick of having sand kicked in our faces by a bunch of ex-IBMers."
At the same time, IBM codified its plans for a web server sales division, headed by ex-Sequent president John McAdam, to claw market share back from Sun. The announcement was backed by the unveiling of what IBM claims is the world's fastest four-way web server, the RS/6000 44P, which uses copper microprocessor technology.
IBM also said it will transfer 25 per cent of its systems sales force to attack the midrange market, and promised the channel will be its primary means of fulfilment. Bill Etherington, senior vice-president of sales at IBM, told VARs: "I agree we have been mixed on that in the past and have confused you."
New certification scheme
IBM also announced a range of certification programmes last week, designed to go beyond classifying its business partners by which of its products they resell.
The new solutions specialities and ebusiness accreditation scheme will form part of the partner profile used to decide the allocation of sales leads under the web-based lead management system IBM will introduce to the UK in the second quarter of this year.
Resellers that achieve certification will be able to use IBM's ebusiness logo and receive priority for leads, support and marketing funds. Duncan said IBM will spend millions promoting ebusiness reseller accreditation to customers.
Solution specialities can count towards ebusiness certification and focus on expertise in software. The first speciality to be introduced in Europe is enterprise resource planning, recognising accreditations from SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards, Baan and PeopleSoft. Customer relationship management, business intelligence and ecommerce are to follow. IBM will offer sales training, marketing programmes and technical support on the specialities, as well as 10 PartnerWorld contribution points for each qualification.
IBM's web-based lead management system is designed to send leads to business partners on the basis of their profile. Resellers can specify what kind of leads they want and a score card is kept by IBM showing how resellers have done.
IBM hopes to learn why it is losing deals and will make the system the only means of passing on leads to VARs.
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