Fri, Jul
2 New Articles

Choosing an IBM Business Partner

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

When you've identified a new IT requirement—maybe it's a specific piece of hardware or software, or possibly it's implementation, integration, or other services—how do you choose the right vendor? Does the "IBM Business Partner" logo on companies' brochures and Web sites mean anything? The answer to the second question is yes. IBM Business Partners can offer value that other companies can't, particularly if you intend to keep your IT platforms within the IBM orbit.

What is an IBM Business Partner? For one thing, it's a legally protected designation. The IBM Business Partner logo is a registered trademark of IBM. Only companies that IBM accepts into its partner program are legally allowed to display the logo or call themselves IBM Business Partners. IBM has three broad classifications of partners: resellers, independent software vendors (ISVs), and consultants and integrators.

IBM recognizes a hierarchy of three levels within each partner classification: Business Partner (member), Advanced Business Partner, and Premier Business Partner. Across the types of partners, there are some variances in how a vendor moves to a higher level, but generally it's based on a point system. Points are earned in a number of ways, including by generating certain levels of revenue, proving customer satisfaction through a survey conducted by an IBM-designated research company, and possessing certain skills. Regardless of how they earn the rest of their points, Advanced Business Partners, with the exception of ISVs, must, at a minimum, possess at least one recognized technical skill and one sales skill. Skills must be validated through certification, the passing of a mastery test, or the passing of a test at a qualifying education event. Attaining the Premier Business Partner designation requires at least two technical and two sales skills.

Membership-level criteria are a little different for ISVs. To reach the Advanced level, an ISV must prove that its software has been successfully implemented on IBM hardware using, where appropriate, IBM middleware at a satisfied customer's site. To reach the Premier level, ISVs must actively participate in joint planning and development of the relationship with IBM. In the ISV category, Premier status is by invitation only.

Partners can take advantage of IBM's trademarked PartnerWorld program that offers sales, marketing, and technology support. As part of this package, partners receive IBM product and solution technical support over the Web and by telephone. This includes support for development, pre-sale, implementation, integration, and post-sale activities.

Among the perks that can deliver value to the partners' customers are skills-building opportunities, such as education and training programs, conferences, and educational Webcasts that help to build the partners' skills and knowledge. Partners are also eligible for discounts on some IBM hardware and software. In addition, some software tools are available to IBM Business Partners at no charge. ISV partners also gain access to IBM's labs to help bring their software to market.

It's not surprising that IBM is willing to strongly back its partners, as it's very much in IBM's best interest to do so. According to IBM's Web site, Business Partners contributed to the generation of more than $32 billion of IBM revenue in 2004, which was more than 30% of IBM's total for that year.

Finding a Business Partner

There are a few ways to find an IBM Business Partner. For one, you can let them come to you either directly through sales calls or indirectly through advertising and articles in industry publications such as this one. A more proactive approach is to seek them out using the search tool at IBM's Web site. IBM doesn't promise to keep its URLs constant, so if the link on "search tool" above doesn't work, surf to www.ibm.com/partnerworld and click on the "Find a Business Partner" link. (Note: IBM doesn't guarantee to continue to offer this tool indefinitely, but since IBM is committed to its partner program and the tool offers a good way for prospective customers to find partners that can serve them, it's reasonable to assume that this search tool or a replacement will remain somewhere on IBM's site for some time to come.)

You can search for partners based on their expertise or location or based on keywords describing the partner's business. The expertise criteria include the products and services the partner offers, the industries it serves, the skills and certifications it has, the business issues it addresses, and the type of partner it is (consultant/integrator, developer/independent software vendor, education provider, reseller, or service provider).

The advanced search option of this tool allows you to narrow your search by, for example, restricting the results to vendors that offer value-added enhancements for a specific IBM or non-IBM software package or vendors that have achieved a particular partner level: member, advanced, or premier.

Choosing a Partner

Clearly, before using the search tool, you must determine what needs you are looking to fulfill. If you have a software requirement, you might restrict your search to just ISVs offering that type of application. In that case, the process of selecting an IBM Business Partner is no different than any other software evaluation process. Define your "must-haves" and "nice-to-haves" and compare those to the feature and function lists of the available alternatives. Also, look at the vendors' support capabilities and their ability to continue to support their products into the future. Then, factoring in price, choose the software that offers the greatest value.

The word "might" in the sentence "If you have a specific software requirement, you might restrict your search to just ISVs offering that type of application" is highlighted for a good reason. The universe of IBM partners is incestuous. Many reseller, consultant, and integrator IBM Business Partners also partner directly with ISVs that are themselves IBM Business Partners.

It might seem counter-productive to go through a third party rather than directly to an ISV to buy that ISV's software, but that is sometimes the preferable option, particularly for small and medium-sized companies. If you need a solution that incorporates a variety of hardware and software from different vendors but your IT department lacks the necessary skills or time to source, evaluate, implement, and integrate them all, you may be able to obtain those services from a reseller, consultant, or integrator that partners with a variety of ISVs in addition to IBM. And that reseller, consultant, or integrator might be willing to do so at a reasonable cost in order to gain your business and its share of the revenue from any IBM and ISV products it sells.

In addition, because ISVs are reluctant to upset their resellers—resellers that may be responsible for a significant portion of the ISV's revenue—ISVs are unlikely to undercut their partners' prices. Thus, you will typically not suffer a cost penalty when buying software through a Business Partner rather than directly from the ISV, other than the cost of any value-added services (such as system installation and integration) that you buy from the partner.

Consider the Long-Term

There's another reason you might want to deal with a consultant, integrator, or full-service reseller rather than directly with an ISV. It is often to your advantage to look beyond your immediate needs. An ISV that sells one or a very limited number of software packages will likely fulfill your existing requirement and provide ongoing support for its software, but when you have an entirely different need in the future, you will have to seek out another ISV to fill it. In contrast, a full-service Business Partner that partners with IBM in addition to a number of ISVs can help you fill that later need as well. Because you have a pre-existing relationship with the Business Partner, you will not have to go through the relationship-building dance common to all but the simplest of IT business transactions. What's more, when installing and implementing the next product, that partner will be able to reduce the associated time, cost, and aggravation by taking advantage of its existing knowledge of your system architecture and IT organization.

Furthermore, if yours is a small or medium-sized company, you can gain a particular advantage by building a long-term relationship with a full-service Business Partner as it can become your eyes and ears on the industry. Bigger companies may have people with a mandate and the necessary time allocation to regularly survey the industry looking for new products and services that can benefit the company. Those larger firms budget considerable funds to send people to business conferences and expositions where they learn about industry innovations. Smaller firms typically cannot allocate the same level of time or funds to those endeavors. A full-service Business Partner can help fill that gap. When you build a long-term relationship with a partner, it gets to know your business and technical environment and requirements. It then might be able to recommend solutions for problems that you thought were unsolvable or to suggest ways to take advantage of opportunities that you were unaware of or you thought were beyond your reach.

Size Matters

When it comes to selecting an IBM Business Partner, size matters, but biggest might not be best. The more important you are to a vendor, the more likely it is to be committed to your satisfaction. All vendors issue marketing hype about how important customers are to them, and that's often, but not always, true. If you represent a large portion of a vendor's revenue, you don't have to depend on its integrity or goodwill to ensure that it will fulfill its marketing promises; you know you are tangibly very important to that vendor. Thus, assuming that the vendor is able to fulfill all of your requirements, consider picking someone your own size. The profit from a small customer's business is often less than a rounding error to a Fortune 500 firm, but it may be a critical portion of a smaller vendor's revenue stream.

That having been said, this article has made an argument for forming a long-term relationship with an IBM Business Partner. That's possible only if the partner actually survives beyond the short-term. Thus, also consider the financial stability and track record of the vendor. Small may be good, but not if it threatens the firm's survival.

The staying power of the vendor is even more important when considering an ISV. Integration and other services are available from a number of IBM Business Partners, but once you've installed an application or systems software package, you will depend on its vendor for ongoing support and product upgrades. And, no matter how good the software is, upgrades will be necessary as you adopt new operating system versions and the market demands new functionality.

Location, Location, Location

Despite the distance-crunching opportunities of the Internet and high-frequency, low-cost air travel, distance still matters. If you're looking for sophisticated software that will require some hands-on support from the ISV or you're trying to find a full-service vendor that will help you with the three I's (installation, implementation, and integration) and will hold your hand when things go wrong, you need to know that the vendor will be there for you. Therefore, when trying to fill these needs, consider the location of the vendor's office(s) and professional staff. If you will need them to come onsite on a regular basis, on short notice, and at a reasonable cost, a local office is beneficial.

Fortunately, IBM's Business Partner search tool allows you to specify a location as one of the search criteria. The advanced search option even allows you to restrict the search results to a certain number of miles/kilometers from the specified location, which can be defined as narrowly as a ZIP/postal code or as widely as a city, state or province, or country.


Before you decide on a particular IBM Business Partner, ask for references. Equally importantly, check them out. Don't assume that the vendor will give you the names only of people who will speak well of it and its products and services. Vendors know that few people actually call the reference accounts and, as a result, vendors do not always do as good a job as they should at vetting those references. There are anecdotes floating around the industry of customers who, when called for a reference, spoke negatively about the vendor and even recommended that the caller use a competitor instead. Even if the reference is satisfied overall with the vendor and its offerings, there might be issues that the reference company considers to be only minor annoyances that are outweighed by the benefits, but those could be critical problems in your environment.

There are a couple catches when it comes to references. First, a new vendor with a truly innovative product or service will not be able to provide you with references, yet what it has to offer may deliver significant benefit. In those cases, you have to rely on your evaluation of the vendor's offering and skills, as well as a bit of a leap of faith.

The second catch is that, even in the case of established vendors, for them to be able to provide you with references, they must have not just satisfied customers, but satisfied customers that are willing to provide the time necessary to answer your questions. That raises two important points. First, out of courtesy to the people acting as references, make reference-checking the last step in your evaluation process, using it only for vendors that have already successfully passed through all other aspects of your screening process. Second, if you are happy with a vendor and its offerings, be willing to act as a reference.

It is worth your while to offer suppliers this help for two reasons. First, as mentioned above, you're going to be depending on them in the future, particularly if their offering is a software package that will need support and upgrading. Helping a trusted supplier with its sales efforts means that it will earn more revenue, which will allow it to stay in business and to fund more research and development for its products—the products that you rely on in your company. The second reason that it's in your best interest to act as a reference when called upon to do so is that somebody has to do it. If you aren't willing to help others in their IBM Business Partner selection process, why would anyone be willing to help you?

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm, and author of BYTE-ing Satire. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto.

MC Press books written by Joel Klebanoff available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

BYTE-ing Satire BYTE-ing Satire
Find out the hilarious answer to the eternal question: "Is technology more hindrance than help?"
List Price $14.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online


Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: