If she wasn't tending to IBM's software partners, Sue Hope says she would be rescuing the world's natural heritage. But since taking up the post in January, the division's channel manager has been busy ensuring resellers get access to more programs, certification training and benefits. The next step, she said, was to open up enterprise and public sector accounts, as well as integrator and ISV skills.

What is your background?
Sue Hope (SH):
I've been at IBM for just over 25 years in various roles. Before I took the software group channels role I spent four years in the business partner organisation (BPO) as a staff manager. Previous to that I was XSeries brand manager.

What does your job involve?
I report to Stephen Worrall (general manager of software, ANZ) and look after the software group, which includes Tivoli, WebSphere, DB2, Lotus and Rational. We divide the market up into routes. We have the direct and telesales, and then the channel. The latter is broken up into traditional resellers, ISVs, OEM partners and regional and global systems integrators. Within that we have different programs. Some partners, such as integrators, are treated as pure influencers today: they won't always have a traditional business partner role but are very important. It is a bit of an orchestra really.

Has IBM's partner model changed at all?
The coverage hasn't changed, but we have changed a lot of the programs over the years, particularly this year. There are a lot more resources lined up to work with the global integrators as we want to make sure we are getting their mindshare. With the ISVs, we are working out how to make it cohesive so partners can come in through a single portal and have an easy experience talking to us. I want to also take it back one step to the student community, and build a scholars and academic program. IBM and our business partner community can then recruit from that base.

What other new initiatives are you working on?
ISVs are very important, and the student program will tie into this. The other thing we are doing is asking our tier two resellers and distributors to be specialised. We have three distributors in Australia: Express Data, Alstom IT and Avnet. What specialisation means is that we may still have those distributors, but we might actually ask them to specialise in different products.

What is the timeframe for this?
We are just about to go out to our partners in the next couple of weeks. I would like to have this in place by November.

The industry is lamenting the lack of certified IT skills locally. How is IBM addressing this?
We have the "you pass, we pay" program. We refund partners if they complete the tests for each of our product programs. Prior to the new programs we announced in March, we had about four certifications. Now we have 31 for Lotus alone. These are important and we are rewarding partners.

Earlier this year, IBM pledged more benefits to software partners. Where are you at with this?
We introduced an interest generating program called "Know your IBM". Partners can login and do software modules while earning points and prizes. We have had 149 partners join that program this year. Of these, 28 were new. Plus we will send the 28 top achievers for software to the Palazzo Versace in Queensland in December. We are also aggressively recruiting partners. We have looked at places such as Sydney and Melbourne where you would think we'd have enough partners. But we are missing some for certain brands. We are also in a security and WebSphere drive.

What are the hot technologies?
We are seeing a lot of growth in the portal space. Compliance is also a very important area. What we're planning to do is to initiate joint developments with Cisco and so on, and use that to bring on partners. Storage, security and the integration of data are also important.

What challenges are you facing?
We have to do is balance channel investment against what we have to achieve as a business. When I first started in this role, the reliance on partners at the end of every month or quarter wasn't what it is today. We are building a greater dependence on partners.

Has there been a change in what business goes to partners?
Earlier this year we committed to take $US20 million out to the partners. We've been on track with that. We have also partnered in our cluster accounts. Before this year we had a big push into SMB, but not on the public sector and enterprise side. We have picked out just under 3000 SMB and slightly more public sector accounts that don't buy out products and handed them to partners. We have said if you sell into these accounts, here is the margin you receive. And these are incredibly deep. We have also plugged our marketing activities with partners on specific tactics and activities. My aim is to build value-added relationships.

What would you be doing if not in IT?
Saving the world. I'm very passionate about preserving natural heritage, especially Australian. I also enjoy making slumped glass into lights.

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