IBM PartnerWorld: Ed Abrams Talks MSPs, Partners, Analytics

At IBM PartnerWorld 2012, MSPmentor sat down with Ed Abrams, IBM's VP of Marketing for Midmarket, who offered a closer look at what IBM has in store for its MSPs and the SMB market. He also provided some insightful answers on the future of data analytics. Here's the MSPmentor scoop …

We kicked off the discussion by looking at the smaller-end of the SMB marketplace. Since SMBs represent a big segment of the market, I wanted to know how IBM planned on bringing expensive data analytics downstream and make it accessible to the smaller end of the SMB.

"The marketplace is consuming [in the analytics] space significantly. Obviously, with very small businesses, we're not quite there, but we're able to deliver [to the majority] of the SMB market with our portfolio," Abrams said. "The 100 employee and above space is where we tend to see [it become cost-effective], but there are exceptions, like a 30-person law firm."

So how many partners who are reaching for the 100+ SMB market have been embracing data analytics? Is the technology really ready for prime time? Abrams admitted that "… it's in its teenage years. It's not quite mature, but what we're seeing is that it's growing hugely. Midmarket SMB customers have voted with their investments on this type of model. It's where they want to go forward."

Fair enough, but does that suggest there's a weakness somewhere inside IBM's partner strategy? "Right now, there's [still] a maturation in the marketplace, in terms of which MSPs are truly going to be the 'leaders,'" he said, adding that as the industry grows, MSPs naturally will evolve up and through the data analytics space to meet demands, thus, ironing out any perceived weakness. "There's a broad proliferation of places [for MSPs to attack] in the next 18 to 24 months."

But will data analytics be around forever? I wanted to know what IBM saw as the next big thing: Is data analytics the end-all, be-all, or is it a means to another end? "I wouldn't say there's [something] after analytics. It's where [data analytics is] going next. As you look at things like SmarterCommerce and social business, even basic solutions like CRM or mobility, they're all based on how [IBM takes] information and data and uses it to your advantage. It [will be] more and more about unstructured data [which often comes from] social media," Abrams said, stressing that because of the ongoing boom in data, high-tech analysis will always be a necessity.

Switching gears, I wanted to know more about the Blue on Blue program and whether it had the potential to send off a shock wave of mergers and acquisitions among IBM partners like The VAR Guy opined. Abrams answered with an emphatic 'no,' explaining, "… the solution accelerator program is simply designed to say, Even though the MSP market is growing and growing rapidly, there's still a significant amount of hardware and software opportunities. We're trying to help partners think outside their environment. But I absolutely believe that a critical element of the [incentives program] is to drive more collaboration. It's critical to what we're doing."

Tying it all together, I asked if there was anything Abrams believed wasn't recognized enough regarding IBM's efforts in the channel. "If I could get on my soap box for two minutes, I'd say we're absolutely committed and recognize the importance of the MSP model. We're committed to make MSPs successful in the channel and serving the needs of SMB business." He noted that 20 percent of IBM's sales in 2011 were driven by the channel. I asked if IBM could see a day where more than 50 percent of its sales were channel. "We would love more than 50 percent, but it's not a declared or driven strategy," Abrams said. But that's not to say it never will happen, even in the not-too-distant future.

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