In order to give itself the best possible opportunity in the burgeoning middleware market, IBM is introducing a revamped distribution system with free training, technical support and incentives to accompany the release of its Software Servers series. Additionally, the manufacturer has established BESTeam, a new VAR-accreditation scheme.
Formerly known as Project Eagle, the Software Server series comprises seven separate modules, and is effectively the coalescence of 57 separate software products in the IBM middleware range. The servers series includes servers for transaction processing, databases, communications, the Internet and Lotus Notes 4.0, as well as a SystemView-based server and tools for software management and a Distributed Computing Environment-compliant server for directory services and security.
In order to support the series and push sales through its channel structure, IBM has introduced a new accreditation program called BESTeam. So far 160 of IBM's VARs have signed up for the program, which also includes regular updates and access to leads generated through IBM's own sales force.
IBM's national channels sales manager for the Software Business Unit, Julie Yardley, says BESTeam is designed to engage resellers in selling and supporting IBM software solutions. "BESTeam is basically a program that brings all our marketing and technical information and our business partners under one umbrella. It really does address the VAR, and it gives them so much information they really don't have to keep scratching their heads," she said.
On the level
Yardley says the program has three levels, depending on the reseller's accreditation, with benefits increasing accordingly. The Software Member level requires resellers to have one IBM Software Specialty in selling IBM products, while the Professional Software Member level requires the partner to have one Professional Engineer Certification in an IBM product area. The Premier Software Member level requires the reseller to have one IBM Software Specialty and three Professional Engineer Certifications. While resellers may opt not to join the BESTeam program, they will forego access to its facilities, including access to a technical support division within IBM that provides dedicated response and support.
"As a BESTeam member they'll get a particular person to call. The Premier level BESTeam members will get an account manager to help them manage their business," Yardley said. Further to this is free training in the IBM Certification Program, consisting of either one- or four-day courses, depending on the requirement. "At the same time, we're not just giving them product training, services training and networking training," Yardley said. "As part of BESTeam, there are other areas of IBM that we can work with to ensure that our business partners are skilled in service offerings as well as products and networking products."
Leading the way
Yardley says part of the program includes sales lead referrals. "If we do a marketing campaign, and it goes out to a particular customer set, the BESTeam members that are relevant or who have a particular focus, such as systems management, will be tagged for the leads."
As for the products themselves, Yardley says the Server Series will better enable resellers to package their own services and support offerings. "If they did have those kinds of services and support, they may have found it difficult to actually piece a solution together. Now it makes it easier for them," she said. "When you look at it, taking all the products that we had traditionally and repackaging them, and putting them into a series of servers means that our business partners will be able to sell our software much easier than they did before, without having to think about the individual part numbers of all the components."
US-based vice-president of integrated solutions marketing for IBM Software Group Bill Reedy agrees, and says IBM has done everything it can to simplify the product for its partners. "The things that we did in Eagle were intended to improve how systems integrators and VARs worked, so they spent less time doing things related to our products and more time doing things related to theirs.
"So we went to a simplified pricing model that's common across all the products. We went to a simple terms and conditions that's common, so they don't have to learn the IBM bible of terms and conditions each time," he said. "We went to a common installation process, so that these products all install in the same way, have the same documentation, have the same launch screen and install on top of each other more simply. And when you add that to a common support structure, and a common services offering, those are the things that we did to make this better from a product standpoint."
Reedy says the theme behind the release of the server series is "middleware for everywhere". Hence, while the products currently are only available for OS/2, AIX Windows NT, a number of other operating systems including Sun Solaris, HP-UX and SCO Unix are also being considered. "This will be a challenge for us, because IBM is renowned as the proprietary leader in things like mainframe and mid-range computing. And providing solutions that were marketplace leaders, but tended to be driven from IBM definition."
New opportunities for VARs
According to Reedy, the multiplatform nature of the Software Server series also offers VARs new business opportunities. "By supporting the widest range of operating systems and industry standard interfaces, we give them the largest opportunity in the marketplace, and we back that up with marketing support. Our BESTeam approach provides for a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day support structure for marketing activities," he said.
The Software Servers are not designed to be a competitor to Microsoft's BackOffice suite, Reedy says. "What we've done with our IBM software servers is provide a complete range of computing capabilities. From enterprise applications to collaborative applications, to client/server applications, to network computing applications, you can do it all. And to limit us to what BackOffice can do we could have done with three and a half servers, not seven.
"This is fundamental to our success," Reedy said. "It's something we haven't done as well as we'd like to in the past, and it's something we're making a commitment to, because we know for us to reach beyond our traditional enterprise customers that our business partners are fundamental to our success."