FIRST PERSON: IBM's great divide

FIRST PERSON: IBM's great divide

Attending IBM's annual software developer event in San Francisco a few weeks back, I finally got a chance to see IBM's developer partners come out of the woodwork. So they do exist!

The Solutions conference was quite a productive affair considering what was happening in its vicinity - we could almost hear the dot-com billboards coming down in San Francisco - as the tech crash tragedy continues to have repercussions in the market.

Nevertheless, the software developers turned up in good numbers. From a channel perspective, it seemed a positive experience. I've been told on several occasions that IBM is now one of those vendors that is no longer interested in box movers of any description. The channel's concerns regarding the vendor's PC sales strategy are not completely unfounded. One of its own marketing folk even hinted that IBM is now only interested in working with those partners that can build customised solutions on the platforms it makes.

Perhaps this is why a lot of PC resellers are finding it difficult to find reasons for promoting IBM hardware, while software developer partners are finding a lot more room to move. The margins are being dictated to the hardware resellers, and many of them suspect the vendor is using its marketing prowess to convince customers to bypass the channel and buy direct.

It is almost as if IBM's software group and hardware group are completely unrelated companies at times. During my time at the conference it became clear that the software group's strategy is to be fairly open with its developer partners.

During a press conference at the event, IBM software's general manager, Steve Mills, said the group had taken to the market with a clear statement of where it would compete and where it would co-operate with ISV/developer partners.

The odd thing is, and this is not restricted to IBM, two vendors can compete in the morning and co-operate in the afternoon. "It's a curious world in that regard," Mills said.

Because of these complex relationships, the group has to be very frank about its strategy. It can beat up Microsoft in the press all morning, be pitching against Microsoft in the market for Web servers or collaboration tools, then sit down with its rival in the afternoon and discuss bundling deals and what standards they are working on together.

It certainly is a curious world in vendorland - but at least, according to Mills, IBM's ISV partners, developers and competing vendors know where Big Blue stands on software. In most cases it seems pretty clear cut.

If only, I hear you ask, their strategy was as clear cut when it came to hardware sales.

Brett Winterford is a journalist for ARN. Contact him at

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