If there is one thing IBM has no shortage of, it is data, according to one former employee.
J. Alan Bird, vice president of business development for Cyber-Ark and longtime IBM solution provider, is keenly aware of the value technical, marketing and sales data can bring to the table. But using it, even inside IBM, usually involved "who do you know inside IBM or are you willing to spend hours fishing at IBM.com?" Bird said.
In the past two years, however, IBM has worked to streamline the data mining process into a single stop, the Virtual Innovation Center, where VARs, ISVs and system integrators can find sales and marketing material, tutorials, certification test preparation courses, technical specifications, and streamlined access to IBM's partner support available from the vendor's PartnerWorld channel program.
What originally grew out of an online version of IBM's Innovation Center locations, offering online training and education tools, has evolved into an enablement tool, helping VARs, ISVs and systems integrators develop, market and sell solutions.
Partners logged 35,000 hours on the VIC portal in 2005, and more than 1,500 used the portal to develop and market projects.
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In 2006, IBM has added or plans to add support for systems integrators, a road map to skills development and 20 Partner Resource Managers to act as VAR and ISV coaches through projects.
IBM also announced plans to make VIC the education platform for its own sales executives, ensuring greater integration between direct and indirect channels, said Brett Hansen, IBM's program director of ISV & Developer Relations.
"The VIC has become the generic front door to get into all of IBM," said Bird of Cyber-Ark. "What's done with the VIC is put [resources] in one spot. You can go in with a generic question and be pointed in the right direction. It's no longer about who you know inside IBM and how to navigate and interpret the Web site, but knowing what you need. With very generic questions, you can receive very specific answers."
Once on the site, partners may register their projects and be walked through the process by PRMs or find answers to specific questionsfirst by searching a library of sales, technical and marketing data, second by posting a query in an online chat and third by contacting a PRM directly.
IBM has worked to integrate the VIC with PartnerWorld's programs, to create a seamless flow from development to marketing, Hansen said.
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PRMs will act as coaches, guiding partners through the myriad resources IBM offers, such as the Virtual Loaner program, which might be obscure or difficult to access, said IBM's Scott Dillingham.
"The program is focused on not just education, but the go-to-market strategy," he said. "We're not just thinking of technical enablement. The end goal is to start marketing and selling."
The portal's streamlined access to information has made it a sales tool, partners said.
Alpine Consulting, a business process software provider, has used the VIC to cut the sales cycle by 15 to 20 percent and increase the rate of closure by 5 to 7 percent, said Stan Duda, a managing partner.
The firm uses the VIC to brief pre-sales and sales staff on products and solutions and uses a function of the portal that delivers vertical solution-specific data on products to prepare and anticipate the sales process.
"It brings credibility to the sales team on site," Duda said. "It is difficult to pitch without knowing the solution and how it fits into the industry. By anticipating questions in that specific vertical, you can put together a list of how you position the pitch and questions you should ask."
IBM also plans to use the VIC prolifically in emerging marketsBrazil, China, India and Russiawhere access to physical IBM resources can be limited.