ISVs Offer Six-Month Report Card on iSeries Innovation Program
by Mary Lou Roberts
In an early summer press release, IBM boasted of the "early successes" of its business partner program targeted to help ISVs and tool partners develop software applications and tools for the iSeries. At that point, Big Blue claimed that the Initiative for Innovation program, launched in February and heralded to rousing applause at COMMON in March, had delivered more than 180 new modernized applications.
To recap, the Application Innovation Program offers up to $50,000 in enablement support services (such as architectural support, education support, and conversion support) to help ISVs modernize and strengthen application offerings. The Tools Innovation Program opened up the iSeries Developer Roadmap to a wider variety of ISVs, broadening the solutions available. And the iSeries Innovation Program gives smaller ISVs a larger voice in key business solutions requirements by industry, especially through the formation of industry-oriented councils that have been formed to identify key business requirements.
IBM realizes (finally!) that if the iSeries is to survive, let alone grow, the ISVs had better be on board supporting and growing the portfolio of applications and tools that have given the platform its rich history. Far too many of them were putting their new development dollars into conversions that would take customers to another platform. Without their continued faith in the iSeries, all would be lost, and that's what the program is designed to do. As Peter Bingaman, vice president of marketing for the iSeries, heralded the program's results in June, "[the ISVs] are seeing the significant investments IBM is making once again in helping them to build their businesses on the iSeries platform. Also, they are seeing a market that is moving over the sweet spot of the iSeries value proposition. . . IBM is investing aggressively in that movement through this initiative and our partners are taking advantage of it."
The program has now had six months to gel. And the Big Blue suits aren't the only ones singing the praises of the initiative. A sampling of ISV opinion hasn't uncovered even one discouraging word about IBM's efforts to prove that they are still wanted, loved, and respected for the work they do building the iSeries ecosystem.
Tom Huntington, vice president of technical services for Help/Systems, applauds the efforts IBM has made and stresses the impact that IBM's attention to the ISV community has had. "It is the solutions, business applications, that drive the sales. Strong relationships with ISVs that are promoting iSeries technology are important to the livelihood of the iSeries. IBM has helped some of the tool vendors with advertising, early ship code, and meeting on technologies like DBCS, UNICODE, and what is coming next in future OS levels."
Will all of these efforts result in increased sales of the iSeries? "It's too early to tell," says Huntington. "Customers buy technology over six to 18 months. Let's see what is happening in the first quarter of 2006."
According to Rick Ayres, vice president of business development at iTera, his company's participation in the Technology Review Board (TRB) has been a very positive experience. Being a part of this group has allowed them to "develop our solutions to maximize the iSeries technology and to have the ability to look into the future with IBM so that we can take advantage of any new technology as soon as possible."
Sal Stangarone, vice president of business development for mrc, is extremely pleased with the program. "IBM has been very good about being in touch and following up with a variety of programs including marketing and sales support initiatives. We've worked with them in their eServer Application Advantage for Linux initiative (also known as Chiphopper) that offers both complimentary listings on Knowledgestorm.com as well as a Webinar. That helps us not only to get the word out about the iSeries platform but to promote all their other platforms that our product can run on. The fact that they are streamlining ways to work with IBM sales and technology consultants, as well as a variety of partnership and lead generation programs, help us, which helps them."
Stangarone, unlike some other industry watchers, believes that IBM has begun to create a groundswell of support for Java. That, combined with IBM's push toward platform openness, he believes, will serve to better IBM's cause. "The reality is that most customers out there are running business applications on a number of different platforms, and I think IBM should begin to reap the rewards of encouraging ISVs to go in this direction. If done well, it serves to bolster IBM's hardware sales as well as large-scale solutions such as WebSphere."
More positive is Biff Myre, Lakeview Technology's director of business development, who believes that iSeries numbers are on the rise both with existing accounts and new customers. "There are more footprints to the installed base with solutions like MIMIX, which influence a large number of new HA servers on iSeries, as well as the addition of net new customers on the platform. Last week, I spoke with an iSeries sales rep responsible for net-new iSeries customers. According to him, IBM is at 120 percent of its year-to-date target." Myre also notes the value of IBM's Built-On-Express program that he says has helped them to reach out to the SMB marketplace with their newest offerings, noting that about 90 percent of Lakeview Technology's customers are SMBs.
It would be tough to top the enthusiasm that Eric Figura, sales and marketing manager for Business Computer Design, has for the program and for its impact on sales. Indeed, he credits the program with helping his company to sign up more than 25 new business partners so far this year. "With our new partners, it's a much easier sell," he says. "Our business has grown in the 20 percent range, and we expect that to continue."
Penni Geller, IBM strategic alliance manager for NetIQ, shares the enthusiasm. "IBM's renewed focus on the iSeries and i5 is encouraging current customer to continue to invest in the platform and the solutions that support it."
IBM's enhanced attention to ISVs has been especially important to Bytware, says its president, Christine Grant. "IBM has been very responsive to development concerns and API requests. This is especially important to us because we are working in an area that is new to the platform--antivirus--and IBM has been very responsive to our requests. Their improvements in V5R3 to support On-Access Scanning have increased the demand for our scanning applications. With On-Access not being available on earlier versions of the OS, this improvement by IBM has enabled us to provide features necessary for true AV and system security. We see more V5R3 interest because of the functionality that IBM has offered us as a vendor."
Christopher Jones, Bytware's marketing manager, also points out that IBM has been very helpful in participating in ISV marketing programs. In fact, Bytware has recently taken advantage of some print advertising opportunities that have branched out into places like the Asia Pacific. "The fact that IBM is offering ISVs these outlets shows a real helping hand that is being extended to us," he says.
Several iSeries ISVs are also now able to be included in IBM's "Try and Buy" program.
Myre notes that in April, Lakeview starting working with IBM in a program to include a free trial version of MIMIX dr1 solution in all shipped i5/OS licenses ordered as either operating system, hardware upgrades, or new server orders. (These solutions are not bundled on the iSeries servers themselves, but provided on a separate set of CDs.) "This program has really expanded our exposure into businesses using the iSeries. These users all require a disaster recovery solution, and many cannot afford to rely on tape backup as their only means of protection. Lakeview and our entire business partner network are leveraging this program to its fullest potential."
Bytware's products, as well, have been included in the program. "The intention," says Grant, "was to create awareness by both IBM and Bytware of the new V5R3 On-Access Scanning and our virus protection product. The results have been positive in that it has increased awareness and understanding of the virus threat within the iSeries market."
Inclusion of more ISV products in the Developer's Roadmap has been a great boon for ISVs as well.
"I commend IBM for trying to sort out what products do for our mutual customers," says Chris Wilson, director of programming and operations tools at Advanced System Concepts, whose company has multiple products listed on the Developer's Roadmap. He notes, however, that "it doesn't have a significant impact on our sales or marketing efforts."
Christopher Jones at Bytware sees the impact of inclusion in the Developer's Roadmap differently. He notes that "all six of our current products are part of the Developer's Roadmap. Like other IBM programs, inclusion in the Roadmap is beneficial to our marketing efforts as it adds that all-important seal of approval from IBM. In order for a product to be in the Roadmap, if must be ServerProven. Users can trust that when they select an application from the Roadmap, they are getting a solid, reliable product, and that is always helpful in marketing."
One area of IBM support that gets the most applause is the increasing accessibility and responsiveness of IBM personnel--both technical and management, and several ISVs offered specific examples.
"IBM has been fantastic about being in touch lately, and following up with a variety of programs including marketing and sales support initiatives," says mrc's Stangarone. He notes that on two separate recent occasions when he was pressed for time, "not only did they take on some of the program sign-on work for me, but they followed up very quickly to make sure that we had been given enough support throughout. It's been great!"
ASC's Wilson also believes that IBM is definitely more accessible now. "Where I need or want information, I'm more likely now to get it than in the past." And NetIQ's Geller agrees. "IBM has always been responsive, but in the last few months it seems we are getting responses quicker than in the past. About two months ago, we were looking for access to older versions of OS for testing. They were able to grant us access via the Virtual Information Center and we are able to complete testing in a timely manner."
Help/Systems' Huntington also praises the effort: "IBM has dedicated several hundred people to this ISV initiative. Their program for the virtual loaner program is a great new resource for us. We plan to use it for testing out some of our new releases where we need several partitions running all at once. John Quarantello is one example of someone helping this program be even more flexible."
According to Lakeview Technology's Myre, IBM personnel have always been accessible and responsive. However, he detects a notable difference now in the excitement that both companies share this year, as well as the new tools and messaging that is supported by great marketing campaigns that differentiate IBM and their business partners.
IBM has even been issuing an enhanced ISV newsletter, designed to deliver the latest and greatest news and tips. Stangarone says the newsletter is well organized so that readers can skim it easily to look for those areas of interest to them. "We are all very busy and so a summarized newsletter on programs and events is great to see. Email is very effective for busy people. Most ISVs have to juggle many issues, and concise information is very important."
On this point, Myre heartily agrees. "As any member of a multi-partner-tiered ecosystem will tell you, it is refreshing to have the content packaged, delivered, and written to the ISV community that highlights the information relevant to our needs."
Looking forward, most of the ISVs are seeing a much more cheery iSeries picture than they were a year ago, thanks in large part to IBM's efforts. But is there anything that can be done to improve the outlook?
Huntington believes that IBM still needs to focus more on the application providers. "They drive the business for all tools vendors (which we are). The more money, time, and effort that IBM spends on making the ERP, CRM, and other industry perspective application vendors happy, the better for all of us."
Myre offers another suggestion. "One of the toughest aspects of developing and managing a partnership program and partner network is the prioritization of resources. All business partners deserve to be treated fairly and with the same rules of engagement. This is something IBM does quite well. However, if I had one request for IBM to enhance its ISV program it would be to focus a disproportionate amount of its resources on the 20 percent of the ISVs that are really impacting and influencing 80 percent of the business, and split their ISV program into two categories or program goals: a) installed base server sales for new footprints; and b) new customer acquisition. There are hundreds of ISVs now benefiting more than ever from IBM's renewed focus on the ISV partner ecosystem and the many new programs in which they can participate. However, the ISVs who are performing at the highest levels in both categories should be rewarded disproportionately than those who are not."
"It's a great start in the right direction," says Stangarone. "It's still early, but leads are starting to come in, and I think if they continue this trend, and they keep this effort up, they will reap dividends from loyal IBM business partners and their customers."
Ayres has high hopes for the future with IBM on the right track. "IBM is making a big push in the right direction to get more applications on the iSeries platform. If you accept the fundamental philosophy of 'buy the application that adds value to your business, and then buy the platform,' it will certainly make a big difference. It also enhances the awareness initiatives that IBM is executing to expose the iSeries beyond the core set of diehards who have always understood that the iSeries is the only platform for serious business applications." (The words of a true "diehard.")
BCD's Figura sums it up. "I like what IBM has done. They are sending out monthly newsletters. They are staying in contact with us. They are working on certifying products. Their people are very accessible. And they are giving us better support to work with our customers."