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IBM channel boss relishes opportunity to grow ecosystem

IBM’s UK and Ireland channel lead is excited by the prospect of making a difference in the role and helping the vendor increase its partner business

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IBM is looking for significant channel growth, both in terms of partner numbers and the business generated by those that work with the vendor.

Targets of doubling the channel base in three years and tripling new logos in a similar timeframe don’t seem to faze IBM’s recently installed vice-president of ecosystem UK and Ireland, Alison Say.

She stepped into the role six months ago, moving from elsewhere within Big Blue. Her time at IBM spans 13 years in different roles, a lot of which have been partner facing, including running the ecosystem on the storage side of the business.

Say said there are certain points in your career where you think, “That’s my job”, and this was one of them. “Ecosystem is kind of in my DNA ... I’ve understood the value of the ecosystem from the get-go,” she said. “This is perfect for me ... the jobs I’ve done before rounded out how I understand the company, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to do this job.”

Say joined the ecosystem at a time when several big things were planned on the channel side of the business, with a fresh partner programme – Partner Plus – launching last month and a sense that the ecosystem is seen across the company as a vital element of IBM’s growth strategy.

“When I was interviewing for the job, I was told that lots of things were changing, but I didn’t necessarily see what they were, so [it was] a leap of faith. Because if I was going to come into this role, I wanted things to change. I wanted certain things that I’ve experienced in the past to be different. I’m really glad I took that leap of faith because we’re not just talking about it. This is fundamentally different, what we’re doing,” she said.

“This is a step-change; it’s not tinkering around the edges. This is the most significant change, both programmatically and how we’re going to market, in 10-plus years,” Say added.

Partner Plus launched on 4 January, putting a revised programme, with greater levels of rewards and support, in place in a clear demonstration of how IBM is getting behind its channel.

“The announcement gave us something really tangible to talk about. What’s really interesting about it is we’re not changing any major strategy around go to market, we’re not changing our product approach and we’re not changing all the priorities that we’ve set out as a company. There’s a lot of stability, but on top of that we’ve put in place this engine and acceleration on the partner piece,” said Say.

The partner programme is a key plank of the efforts IBM is making, but it goes beyond the nuts and bolts of rebate, enablement and incentive programmes – it is somethibng more fundamental.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum right now. What’s changing? It’s hard to quantify a feeling, but the conversation’s changed. When you hear all of our announcements, it’s client and partner in the same sentence – it’s not ecosystem as an afterthought. We’ve always been a strong ecosystem company and it’s always played a really important role, particularly in our infrastructure business and our software business. But the momentum and impetus and focus on ecosystem in every conversation from the top down is really noticeable,” she said.

“The ecosystem is a growth engine for us. Our aspirations for the company are also heavily pinned on the importance and growth in the ecosystem. From an ecosystem-specific perspective, our ambition is to double the business over the next three to five years,” she added.

The opportunities for partners have also changed as IBM sets out to dominate the hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence segments. Big Blue has been active, buying the likes of Red Hat to bolster its own proposition and, as a result, one the channel can put in front of customers.

A lot of IBM’s channel has modernised along with the vendor, but the fundamentals – storage and power – that got a lot of them into a relationship with the vendor decades ago are still there.

Having a wider product portfolio and being in a position to solve more customer problems means there is an expectation that partners will bring on board more fresh logos. Along with the channel growth targets, that is another goal Say is working towards.

“We have a huge ambition in 2023, and we put a stake in the ground around new client acquisition. We’re looking to triple year on year the number of new clients we acquire, and we can’t do that without the ecosystem,” she said.

For someone facing sizeable growth targets and helping to bed in a fresh partner programme, Say comes across as excited. motivated and confident the channel will deliver.

“This is where my passion and purpose come together,” she said. “The changes are so fundamental, not only in the programmes, but in the momentum and attitude. It’s a good place to be, although it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to have to continue to innovate and continue to grow.”

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