3 IBM Partners Eye Different Paths to Success
The partner transformation journey is real, it’s happening, and it’s unique to each company. At the same time, there’s a common thread among partners engaged in transformation — a state of mind for change.
Here’s a look at three IBM business partners – one, an innovative leader carving out a future using AI and Watson technology; another, a 10-year old MSP with a purposeful, strategic business-transformation road map; and the third, a 30-year plus partner attending IBM PartnerWorld at Think 2018 to figure out what’s ahead.
B.digital, the innovation lab of Blueit Group, is the global champion of the 2017 IBM Watson Build Challenge. The company’s winning solution is bioBOTGuard. It uses drone technology and cognitive visual recognition through Watson APIs to help agronomists and farmers save time and money. The solution facilitates “precision farming” by improving both monitoring activities and field operations.
Founded in 2008, the Italy-based IBM business partner is a managed services provider (MSP) and cloud services provider (CSP). So how does an MSP/CSP get into the agro food industry?
“We started in infrastructure services and climbed up the stack adding application management services. But we knew that we had to climb a little bit more in order to find a specific industry because we wanted to reach the level of talking about business rather than technology,” Paolo Mazza, CEO of b.digital told us.
Utilizing its existing relationships with the CIOs of the companies that it did business with, and recognizing the problems – security, integration – that CIOs were tasked with after the lines-of-business (LOB) managers independently purchased their own as-a-service software, the MSP/CSP began talking to the CIOs about business solutions.
The objective was to make the CIO more proactive with the LOBs. On occasion, Blueit had the opportunity to be an innovation advisor to existing customers, having the ear of both the CIO and the LOBs. Then the partner went in deep. In January 2017, Blueit launched b.digital, the innovation lab and separate company operating under Blueit Group.
“B.digital is a protected environment to do creative things. And, if you want to keep developers, you can’t do that as an MSP,” Mazza said.
Just one month later, IBM launched the first Watson Build Challenge, a contest open to IBM business partners. The goal is to build an AI solution on the IBM cloud. [Watson Build 2.0 recently kicked off.]
“For us it was the perfect innovation paradigm to become the innovation adviser to our customers,” said Mazza.
The Watson Build competition provided the strict schedules and expectations that b.digital needed, while providing an accelerated technology learning curve for the team it assembled for the project.
For Mazza, the correlation between bioBOTGuard and the MSP/CSP business is clear.
“It’s the same for what we do for IT assets, but for the crops. You have an asset, you monitor it using different monitoring tools and you get information. If you get an “incident,” then you have your expert team, which is not about IT but is about agronomy — so an agronomist can decide if it’s time to send the drones to treat the crops, and just where it’s needed,” he explains.
Back in the U.S., Florida-based Flagship Solutions Group is a true Blue partner, with its sights on advanced technologies. CEO Mark Wyllie founded the company in 2008. He markets Flagship as a smarter partner for the cognitive era.
Early on, however, Wyllie took his understanding of IBM’s legacy hardware-software business, and from the get-go sold IBM products while building a MSP business. Wyllie spent a few decades of his career at other partner firms, prior to launching Flagship.
“We did a total hardware refresh for the first MSP customer we had,” Wyllie said. “The CIO wanted to get out of operations and I wanted to get in.”
While the first contract was custom, he used it to scale his MSP business.
Flagship is all in with IBM and likes the direction the company is headed with margins — 10-15 percent for hardware, about 30 percent for professional services, 45 percent for managed services, and 75 percent for SaaS.
“That’s the trajectory we’re moving toward,” Wyllie said.
A couple of years ago, Flagship developed Infralytics – infrastructure plus analytics – with the deliverable being a real-time dashboard for real-time insights. The partner offers proactive intelligence services to executives, management, LOB and administrator-level users. The service, a combination of Flagship’s infrastructure analytics and managed-service offerings, is designed to help businesses understand internal infrastructure resource utilization, performance and capacity in relation to the needs of the business.
Flagship recently signed a contract with NASCAR to provide critical weather information. The solution, called Weather Track, is a real-time, weather-insights dashboard developed on the IBM Cloud that leverages Weather Company data and utilizes Flagship’s Infralytics methodology. NASCAR gets weather information such as rain start-and-stop times, wind speed, lightning proximity, tornado/flash flood warnings and more to help race organizes optimize events — often run weekly. They also get access to a meteorologist as a translator for the data. Weather Company is an IBM business.
“That’s where we’re headed. Two weeks ago, I hired a person to come in and run our software-innovation business,” Wyllie said.
As an enterprise-focused company, Flagship plans to leverage the API economy to get access to multiple data sources, AI and Watson to grow its business.
Cothern Computer Systems of Jackson, Mississippi, was founded in 1981 to provide software development to regional customers. Cothern was one of IBM’s first business partners. The company has two divisions: application conversions and systems integration, and contact-center technologies. (Cothern got started with IBM Call Path, which was sold to Genesys in 2001, so Cothern is also a Geneys partner.)
Name an IBM system and Cothern has performed application migrations and/or conversions. He will rewrite applications when conversions aren’t economically feasible or technically possible.
“What’s changed in our business is that we used to write and sell software because no packaged software was available for small and midrange systems, Allen Cothern, the company’s CEO, told Channel Futures. “We used to sell hardware, but there are national resellers doing that. What we have is a unique skill set which is taking people from one IBM system to another IBM system, and now we do more work outside of the state than inside.”
A lot of the migration work is done for large customers on mainframes, IBM Power Systems and System/z, and can take years.
Cothern has a dedicated bench of software developers and is well-positioned to move into artificial intelligence. “We’re very interested in AI. We see that as an add-on to what we’re doing, and the services we’re already providing our customers,” Cothern said.
That’s why Cothern and Walter Camp, vice president of business development at Cothern, attended IBM Think 2018.
“We’re looking for specific technologies and processes from IBM that can add value to what we do,” Camp said.
Cothern is pleased to hear that IBM is making it easier for partners to work together — something the vendor has needed to do for a year, he said.
“A lot of our business comes through or is with other partners.”