IBM Consolidates Entire Ecosystem Around Kate Woolley

The former Bain partner steps into her new role after serving as CEO Arvind Krishna’s first chief of staff.

Jeffrey Schwartz

April 4, 2022

6 Min Read
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When Arvind Krishna became IBM’s chairman and CEO two years ago, he recruited veteran Bain & Company partner Kate Woolley as his chief of staff. Woolley is now Big Blue’s top partner executive, as Krishna tapped her to oversee IBM’s entire partner community.

Channel_Futures_Signature_Series_Logo-300x300.pngIn January, Woolley stepped into the newly created role of general manager of The IBM Ecosystem. IBM has consolidated its various partner communities around Woolley, who oversees all programs for channel partners, distributors, MSPs and ISVs. While she will also look to create opportunities for IBM partners around Red Hat OpenShift, Woolley said there are no plans to bring the Red Hat Partner program into IBM’s.

Besides a relationship with go-to-market partners, Woolley’s leadership position also covers technology and consulting alliances. Leaders of those programs now report to Woolley including David La Rose, general manager of IBM channel partner ecosystem sales. La Rose now reports to Woolley, who reports to IBM’s senior VP of global markets, Rob Thomas. Nevertheless, it is clear that Woolley has the ears and attention of CEO Krishna.

Woolley, a native of Australia, lives in New York City, where she worked at Bain, prior to joining IBM. Until now, Woolley’s new role at IBM has remained under the radar. Since taking over, she has traveled and met with various partners and internal teams. Next week, Woolley will make her first major public appearance at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

Kate Woolley is one of more than 100 top speakers at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo/MSP Summit. Register now to join 6,500 fellow attendees, April 11-14. You can also interact with more than 300 key suppliers and technology service distributors.

Woolley’s plan when she joined IBM as Krishna’s chief of staff was eventually to take on a key leadership role within IBM, she told Channel Futures.


IBM’s Kate Woolley

“Over those two years, I witnessed firsthand how critical the IBM ecosystem is to IBM, and how front and center it is for the priorities of IBM,” she said. “Being side by side with Arvind for two years, I learned a lot about how we can do more with our ecosystem.”

The Kyndryl Opportunity

As Krishna’s chief of staff, Woolley had an early front-row seat into IBM’s divestiture of its services business. Before the move was announced and it was just under consideration, Woolley was among those weighing the pros and cons.

“As it was coming together, there was a lot of work done,” she recalled. “I got put my consulting hat back on, and we weighted, what are some of the risks with this? How do we think about mitigating them? But it was the right thing to do in terms of how to think about the game board of where IBM was heading and what we want to be.”

Ultimately, she favored the move to divest the business, which is now Kyndryl. Like many proponents, Woolley believed shedding the services would help eliminate the channel conflict overhanging IBM and its partners. Asked if that has materialized since last November’s spinoff, Woolley said she believes it has. During her three-month “listening tour” that began in January, Woolley focused on learning how partners can do more with IBM.

“This has sent a clear signal to our ecosystem, that the ecosystem is front and center as part of our strategic priorities,” Woolley said of the Kyndryl divestiture. “And I think with Kyndryl as a part of IBM, that could always be a little bit of a question mark. But they [partners] really feel like it is now front and center. And they see that and it’s all part of walking the talk, to make that move.”

Another stated goal of the Kyndryl spinoff is expanding the ability for partners to deliver IBM offerings as managed services. Woolley believes roughly 40% of IBM partners business on average is managed services. While she said IBM has various efforts to enable that today, she underscored, “we need to continue to grow that.”

IBM’s New Partner Portal

A top priority for Woolley is advancing IBM’s promise to provide a modern digital experience for partners. IBM is delivering that through its new PartnerWorld portal, which IBM has launched in every country except the United States. Next week, it will go live in the U.S., Woolley explained. The new Salesforce-based portal provides faster deal registration quoting and other partner tools, including chatbot support using Chatter.

“I would say this is the most significant improvement we’ve made in terms of how we work with our partners and how they engage with us,” Woolley said. “In the portal, we’re now able to have a single tool, and in a single view for our partners to create quotes and do request deal reviews.”

The new portal also provides …

… simplified deal registration. Wooley said registering a deal that once took a half-hour now can be completed in 2 minutes.

“The simplicity of it is amazing,” she said.

But that’s just the beginning, Woolley emphasized.

“We have to simplify and streamline it even more in terms of how we engage with our partners and how they engage with us on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “How do we give them the right recommendations? How do we give them simplified parts of training, certifications, onboarding? That all is the end-to-end digital experience we are creating.”

Ambitious Goals

For Woolley, it’s not just about having partners doing more with IBM. She wants to see ecosystem revenue double within the next three to five years by executing against IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI strategy. Woolley sees two keys to achieving that.

“We need to be easier to do business with, and we need to be essential to their business,” Woolley said.

The new partner portal will play a pivotal role, she said, in terms of providing an improved digital experience.

Another area IBM will invest in is providing partners the skills they need. This year, IBM has increased the number of technical specialists and support serving its ecosystem by 35%; plus, it has expanded its labs for ISVs, GSIs and other partners.

“We’re investing there, and then continuing to evolve our training skilling competencies and all of that,” she said.

Bain Connection

Coming to IBM after 14 years as a Bain partner wasn’t an arbitrary move. At Bain, Woolley led its technology practice while also co-leading its Cloud Computing Center of Excellence. Woolley said sales excellence and customer experience were key areas of focus in that role.

Among her many clients was Krishna on behalf of IBM, as well as La Rose.

“At a very high level, I had seen and worked with IBM from the outside and had worked closely with Arvind and I believed in his vision for IBM, the vision around hybrid cloud and AI,” she said. “The market had spoken around hybrid cloud being the destination and AI being one of the most powerful forces. I believed in Arvind’s leadership, so when he was announced as CEO, and we had a discussion about me joining IBM. It felt like the right thing to move into the middle of a really large transformation.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Jeffrey Schwartz or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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