Business partners have been essential to the success of Notes and Domino, but IBM believes a renewed commitment to its Lotus partners will be a successful catalyst of future software growth.
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One key part of that renewed effort is its Move2Lotus seminars in which business partners and IBM Lotus experts join forces to demonstrate the collaborative capabilities of Lotus products. The program also rewards customers for "trading in" non-Lotus licenses when buying new Lotus software.
Those kinds of events -- emphasizing partners' skills alongside Lotus products -- represent a new thinking at IBM, said David Hough, a director with PSC Group LLC, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based consultancy and IBM business partner.
PSC specializes in combining customer relationship management software on customized Notes/Domino and WebSphere platforms. He said the event benefited IBM Lotus because PSC filled the room with its Lotus customer prospects. At the same time, Lotus' presence added credibility to PSC's customization and service abilities.
Hough said his company offers monthly seminars at a Chicago area IBM facility, with each session focusing on a particular technology topic. "We have recognized names in the Lotus community speak, and they talk about what it takes to move from a Microsoft environment to a Lotus environment," He said
"If you're IBM, PeopleSoft, SAP or any software vendor, you're always going to have your own default perspective of how to solve a problem," Hough said. Business partners, on the other hand, are better positioned to listen to a customer's problem, find a strategy to solve it and then worry about which software products will be the best fit.
Without business partners, Notes and Domino wouldn't have grown to where they are today, said Michael Loria, IBM Lotus' director of channel and product marketing.
Loria said customized Notes applications, which have been largely developed by business partners, have driven users' fervor over the years for the platform.
He admitted that about four years ago when the Lotus partner program merged with IBM's other software brands under the IBM PartnerWorld moniker, partners experienced some trauma. For instance, Loria said the IBM program was intended to support a smaller number of large partner businesses, while Lotus partners were large in number but small in size.
To help Lotus partners, Loria said IBM Lotus has adjusted its participation levels to provide smaller companies with more services and support. It has also helped the approximately 5,000 partners who "make their living on Lotus" to take advantage of other IBM partnership perks, such as training, sales materials, marketing support and customer outreach programs.
Hough said those efforts have paid off. For instance, when he has a problem or question, he now has a team of four IBM PartnerWorld support contacts he can call directly for immediate assistance. When he had a problem previously, "They pretty much said, 'It's online,' but there was so much information out there that you could never find what you needed."
He said the extra support has helped PSC's 100-employee business grow amid a brutal Chicago-area business climate that has seen many other small businesses suffer.
"Microsoft is focused on desktop functions … and IBM Lotus is a process-focused architecture," Hough said. "With IBM's help, we're able to deliver steak at hamburger prices."
Loria said his group is working diligently to court new partners, but even though IBM PartnerWorld is likely to remain smaller than the Microsoft Certified Partner program, he believes the quality of PartnerWorld's offerings is far superior.
"If you ask a partner of both IBM and Microsoft who does a better job supporting them in terms of enablement, skills development and customer support, we tend to score higher. That's what we stress, the quality of the engagement," Loria said.