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IBM i Partner Ecosystem Satisfies Client Needs

Alison Butterill and Sergio Amoni discuss how IBM works with a vast business ecosystem to satisfy client needs.

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Now celebrating 30 years, IBM i has clearly stood the test of time. That kind of endurance testifies, no doubt, to the role that the OS has played in businesses successes over those 30 years. IBM i users value the integrated nature of the platform, which includes many pieces of the application solution stack.

But even the greatest technology can fizzle if its benefits aren’t communicated clearly to potential or existing clients or if it loses touch with industry needs through isolation. If you ask Alison Butterill, IBM i offering manager, why that hasn’t happened with IBM i, she quickly points to a vast and robust ecosystem comprising hardware and software partners and the strong user community.

“We rely on our business partners to interface with our clients,” she says. “Our IBM i community is well served by the partners who provide information, execute services and have long-standing relationships with many of our clients. We couldn’t do it without them.”

IBM partners come in various forms: hardware resellers, software resellers, ISVs and some partners who have blended skills. These business partners—plus community user groups, advocacy councils and advisory councils—create a very strong ecosystem.

Extended Reach

Where IBM itself can’t reach potential clients to explain the system’s superiority, resellers of IBM Power Systems* servers can. Hardware, software and application vendors drive knowledge of the system’s benefits to the market and help it continue to evolve. Consultants—both internal and external—are part of that ecosystem as well. Each of these groups brings its own skills and perspective to IBM i.

“IBM is a big company with many internal divisions and teams. We consider our business partner community to be an extension of those teams. We rely on the partners to not only provide information about new releases and new technologies, but also to give IBM feedback about our clients and their requirements. It’s a two-way street,” Butterill says. “In some cases, the partners even solve the requests themselves by providing services and project assistance. They’re truly an extension of our team.”

As new hardware and software are announced, it’s often business partners who communicate the details to clients. They’re well positioned to disseminate information as they have the contacts into the client businesses and IT shops. For example, with the recent POWER9* announcement in February, IBM equipped partner sellers with details in advance so they could relay that information to their clients on announcement day.

When it comes to physical implementations, the business partner community plays another key role. Migrating to newer servers requires significant planning and execution assistance—a forte of many business partners. “With thousands and thousands of clients around the globe, our partners help us get the job done quickly,” Butterill says. “All of us have the end goal of a successful and happy client.”

Better Together

These matches get made through the IBM PartnerWorld program. Any firm interested in a partnership visits an online portal and registers with the program. The registration doesn’t represent a contractual obligation, but rather gives the company an insider’s view of IBM’s partner programs and offerings. If they decide they want to build the relationship, they choose an authorized distributor and complete a standard business partner agreement. IBM offers to help these partners come up with solutions for clients that increase sales, but it’s up to the partner to decide if that’s something they want.

“IBM brings formal rigor to the partner management process and can provide as much or as little direct engagement as the partner would like,” says Sergio Amoni, vice president, Worldwide Systems Channel, IBM Global Business Partners. “Each one of these groups brings unique value and reach to the IBM i ecosystem. We are always on the lookout for partners who are interested in a long-term relationship and investment with IBM to develop and expand new and existing solutions for their clients with our technology.”

“We’re always on the lookout for partners who are interested in a long-term relationship and investment with IBM to develop and expand new and existing solutions for their clients with our technology.”
—Sergio Amoni, vice president, Worldwide Systems Channel, IBM Global Business Partners

Butterill says business channel partners are invaluable in bringing industry-specific knowledge to meetings with clients, who appreciate seeing a comprehensive understanding of how IBM’s hardware and software will meet their particular needs.

“If I’m a hardware seller, it helps when I can take an application vendor who writes software and knows the industry and technology,” she says. “Sellers can choose to work with companies like INFOR when talking to clients in the manufacturing marketplace. The industry knowledge of the ISV can assist hardware partners to talk to potential clients. This helps to offer a more robust solution.”

Whether it’s resellers, developers, consultants or the open-source community, Butterill says that IBM and its many various partners benefit equally from the symbiosis. “We partner with partners because it’s successful for both sides,” she says. “Our partners are successful because we enable them, and they help us be successful because they have established relationships with our clients.”

Community Collaboration

“The IBM i community is incredibly active and vocal,” she says. “They’re interested in database and applications. They’re much more broadly focused than many other IT people working on other platforms.”

Butterill works with many application vendors, a subset of whom form an ISV Advisory Council. This group relays feedback to IBM on strategy and product design for database and application development products. Vendors collect information and requirements as they talk to their application customers and they feed that information back to both their own software developers and IBM. This feedback ensures that all of the infrastructure and business solutions get better.

IBM i has four main advisory councils to assist the team in setting strategic goals and objectives: the COMMON North America Advisory Council and the COMMON Europe Advisory Council, which provide guidance from the user community at large, the IBM i Large User Group, which represents 100 or so of the largest IBM i clients, and the aforementioned ISV Advisory Council.

“They make suggestions,” Butterill says. “Sometimes we say, ‘That’s a great suggestion, how would you implement it?’ It’s a give and take. We collect constituents together and talk with them about the future of IBM i.”

The IBM i community is encouraged to have a real say in the platform’s ongoing development. Through the IBM Request for Enhancement community web-based tool, clients and partners can send a request for a new function straight to the product development team. The entire community can then view the requests, comment on them and vote for them, providing a tally that helps IBM prioritize which functions to add first.

Value for Clients

The future of IBM i is always moving forward and evolving as technology changes. Of course, this means that the partnership landscape must evolve as well. Many IBM i clients have relied on the stability, reliability and availability of IBM i on POWER* for years. However, as the cognitive era takes hold, it becomes vital to bring clients into that space. It’s safe to say many more evolutions will come. For example, with artificial intelligence (AI) just coming to the marketplace, Amoni says it’s crucial now to push the integration of IBM i and AI functionality, and that business partners are going to play a huge role in accomplishing that.

“The best partners out there are leveraging the latest advancements both within IBM i and throughout the market to deliver a thoroughly modern experience to the IBM i community,” Amoni says. “New solutions are being created to allow clients to take advantage of their core IBM i application data to deliver exciting insights back to their businesses through AI. This is just one example of the amazing innovation we are seeing across our IBM i partner ecosystem that’s delivering value to their clients every day.”

The IBM ecosystem is a healthy network of hardware partners, software partners, ISVs and user communities. Each plays a key role in ensuring that IBM i continues to evolve and grow, providing the right solutions to clients.

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