RealTime IT News

IBM Eases ISV Reins

IBM is easing restrictions on its ISV membership program, opening the door for more marketing and sales help for companies that make software based on IBM's middleware platform.

There are three levels in IBM's PartnerWorld program for ISVs: Member, advanced and premier. Previously, advanced membership level was an invitation-only affair by an IBM client rep; now, ISVs can nominate themselves for mid-tier membership as long as they can show their software is used at a customer site running on an IBM hardware and software platform. Advanced members must re-qualify annually.

Along with easing the membership restriction, the Armonk, N.Y., company is also beefing up its help in the form of financing co-marketing initiatives, which will expand access to Big Blue's sales force and region-specific assistance.

Officials say the program enhancements are a major component in its $1 billion investment in ISVs, the fastest-growing segment in its business partner division. PartnerWorld Industry Networks membership is somewhere in the realm of 2,000 companies since its launch in March, with about 5,000 to 6,000 who generate more than $5 million in revenues a year.

"It's critically important that we have a successful and growing and financially viable network of software providers," said Scott Hebner, IBM WebSphere director of marketing. "What you're seeing [by IBM] is a continued investment in ISVs to help them generate the business and close the business, because we're not in the application business, we're heavily dependent on these ISVs."

The Tuesday announcement opens the doors to ISVs who might not have had access to IBM's higher membership levels, because they didn't have strong ties with a person who could nominate them. Now, ISVs can nominate themselves for advanced membership to gain access to support they wouldn't have had in the past.

To seal the deal, IBM is providing direct assistance to this new crop of ISVs. Marketing and sales representatives will point out the best way to conduct a marketing campaign, get up to 70 percent discounts on trade magazine advertising by having access to IBM's bulk advertising rates or work with someone in sales to close a deal.

The company is paying particular attention to foreign ISVs. With developers in 100 countries who speak up to 14 different languages, IBM feels it has the industry experience to deliver. Sales teams in these foreign locales will be on hand to help ISVs sell their software in much the same fashion as in the United States, while Web sites have been translated into the 14 languages where they have a presence.

IBM has been pushing an ISV-friendly agenda within its walls for some time, particularly after leaving the application development sector and concentrating on its middleware software -- the WebSphere platform that connects two or more applications seamlessly. According to Hebner, there are roughly 68,000 ISVs around the world at any given time. It's a number that shifts often, he said. There are a lot of systems integrators who dabble in software development, while one- or two-man shops start up or go out of business often, making it difficult to get a firm estimate.

Late last year, the company reorganized its software division to accommodate industry-specific solutions, an area where ISVs are particularly suited to deliver: many independent software development outfits cater to niche markets in particular industries, like retail or manufacturing, and IBM encourages that niche support.

Hebner believes IBM has more friends in the ISV community than its competitors, particularly because IBM doesn't create applications that compete against them, unlike Microsoft , Oracle or SAP , who each have their own ISV programs.

"You don't want to commit to a partner that is eventually going to be competing with you," Hebner said. "When it's all said and done, the ISVs want one thing: a partner who will help them generate leads and close more business."