IBM Grows Its SOA Partner Community

IBM announced growth in its Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Business Partner segment, citing more than 4,100 members to date. That number represents a leap from the program's start in June of 2005, when there were just 50 partners.

One featured element of program is IBM's online SOA Business Catalog, a resource of SOA solutions for partners. The Catalog has grown, increasing from less than 300 reusable Web services in June of 2006 to more than 4,600 services today.

Partners have access to IBM-supplied solutions in the Catalog, plus solutions added by partners -- all of which must pass certain IBM validation tests. Currently, more than 74 percent of the solutions in the Catalog were contributed by IBM SOA Business Partners, who either provide them for free or sell them through the catalog.

From the time of its inception, there have been more than 25,000 downloads from the IBM SOA Business Catalog, according to Sandy Carter, IBM's vice president for SOA and WebSphere strategy, channels and marketing.

The partner program is designed for system integrators, independent software vendors and resellers, Carter explained. System integrators are typically regionally focused partners working with IBM. Independent software vendors typically add value to IBM SOA solutions, and resellers typically distribute to the small-to-medium enterprise segments of the market.

Carter pegged medium-size businesses as the current drivers of SOA growth.

"For our SOA partners today, they are typically targeting the mid-size, medium and large-size customer," Carter said. "And that's mostly based on opportunity. The fastest growing area for SOA right now is with that medium customer, where they want to get connected in with larger marketplaces -- they want to leverage the power of Web services and broader global communities to grow their businesses."

IBM offers resources to its SOA Business Partners, but there are tiers to the program. For instance, partner status is based on the partner's ability to pass IBM SOA certification tests. IBM administers basic, intermediate and advanced SOA certification programs. The newly announced certification programs associated with the new IBM Federal SOA Institute are part of IBM's larger SOA partner program.

Advanced SOA certification was newly introduced in the first quarter of this year as a kind of pilot program. The advanced SOA Business Partner program will have a broader launch in the first quarter of 2008, Carter said.

Partners at the beginning SOA level need to demonstrate basic SOA understanding and be capable of doing certain projects, Carter said. At the advanced level, SOA Business Partners need to understand the business level and the technology perspective of SOAs. Carter added that advanced partners go before a board or panel consisting of IBM's architects to explain how they handle certain client problems. You have to be a certified architect or designer to partner with IBM at the advanced SOA level.

Specialty partners are those partners who adhere to IBM's SOA strategy, Carter said. Specialty partners can post to the SOA Business Catalog, although their solutions and skills have to be validated by IBM. There are levels associated with partner skills, such as the ability to exploit, connect, or transform data using the technologies associated with SOA.

Carter explained that the announced 4,100 partner members comprise the IBM SOA Partner Community. At that level of partnership, IBM provides a set of programs to technically enable partners and accelerate their SOA adoptions with customers. This level of partner participation comes with a set of sales tools and educational resources that partners can use to identify and close opportunities.

Levels above the SOA Partner Community one are a bit more complicated, as Carter explained.

"If you look at the next level, it's around the specialty area," she said. "And the specialty area represents those who have completely given themselves over to the IBM strategy. There's a set of business, technical and educational criteria -- and that varies based on what type of partner they are. So, if they are a system integrator, it's based on their skill level. If they are an ISV, it's based on their solution. It's also based on the number of people -- a percentage of their people have to have certifications and have gone through educational [programs]."

IBM also has an incentive program for partners that is separate from the SOA Business Partner program. It's called the Software Value Incentive (SVI) program, and IBM announced it last year. SVI has its own set of criteria, but essentially partners get paid by IBM when they close deals, Carter said.

There are three criteria on which IBM measures partner contributions. They determine the degree of compensation from IBM in terms of how many leads IBM provides partners and how much marketing support is provided. IBM looks at the partner's contributed references and how much revenues the partner brought to the table. Technical skills and certifications are evaluated, along with educational criteria.

"Part of it is the more you sell -- the more you do business with us -- the more you get," Carter explained

She added that IBM sets the priority of who gets to run IBM's traveling SOA educational event, called "Impact Comes to You," based on the contributions of partners. IBM looks at the partners' contributed revenues, technology skills and dedication when planning these events.

In addition to the "Impact Comes to You" local events, IBM provides other benefits for IBM SOA Business Partners. Those benefits include the WebSphere Knowledge Center, IBM Solution Podcasts and online courses through the IBM Virtual Innovation Center.

Information on IBM's SOA initiatives can be found here.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.