Prediction: IBM Will Expand Managed Services Strategy

At IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, I suspect we'll see some new wrinkles within Big Blue's managed services provider (MSP) channel strategy. When IBM first engaged MSPs, I think the top goal was to sell them servers, storage and converged infrastructure. But gradually, I think IBM is realizing that the majority of MSPs (especially those in the SMB market) are plugging into third-party data centers rather than building their own. What should IBM do? Here's a hunch.

First, the big picture: IBM on Tuesday will host an MSP panel discussion. It will focus on Big Data challenges and opportunities in healthcare, banking and retail. Expected panel participants include:

  • Ed Abrams (pictured), VP of IBM Midmarket Business, moderating;
  • Mike McClurg,  VP of Global Midmarket Sales, IBM;
  • Phil Simon, influencer, author and speaker on Big Data;
  • Jacob Braun, CEO of Waka Digital, an IBM Business Partner;
  • Charles Weaver, president of MSPAlliance.

Big Data Reality Check

Clearly, Big Data is the big priority for IBM.
  • On the one hand that's smart. Generally speaking, few technology vendors are speaking with MSPs about Big Data opportunities. So IBM has a chance to build mind share and mind share in the MSP ecosystem. IBM could become the de facto company helping MSPs to build Big Data business practices.
  • On the other hand, Big Data is a limited opportunity in the MSP ecosystem. According to the data I've seen -- from our webcasts -- only about 5 percent of MSPs are actively pursuing Big Data opportunities. Are we early in the market? Or  will most MSPs ignore the Big Data wave? Frankly, I think it's the latter.

History Repeats Itself

Let's look at it another way: Business Analytics is a hot, growing market. IBM and many of its top channel partners have leading positions in the analytics market. But overall, I suspect fewer than 10 percent of IBM partners are actually involved in the analytics market. Just a hunch but that same percentage share will hold true in the Big Data niche.

So what should IBM do? My thoughts:
  1. Continue with the Big Data push to MSPs. It's smart and will attract some really forward-thinking MSPs. But accept the fact that the vast majority of MSPs won't start Big Data business practices. Most MSPs are working to gather and analyze their own structured and unstructured business data. Assisting customers with those types of tasks won't come easy.
  2. Continue selling servers, storage and converged infrastructure to MSPs that have or want their own data centers. Accept the fact that this is a growing market -- but a niche, nonetheless, as more MSPs plug into third-party data centers.
  3. Start promoting (much more aggressively) IBM's own SmartCloud services to MSPs. New offerings like IBM SmartCloud Docs could be a welcome alternative to Google Docs, Google Apps and Office 365 -- if MSPs only new about the IBM solution. Note to MSPs: Ed Brill is the IBMer you want to ask about this.
  4. Start promoting (much more aggressively) IBM's server, storage and converged infrastructure to top cloud services providers (CSPs). And then help MSPs plug into those CSPs for cloud services.
I look forward to IBM's MSP panel on Tuesday. Memo to panel member Jacob Braun: Thanks for the briefings over the years.
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