LAS VEGAS – While IBM Corp. didn’t make much in the way of news on Tuesday at its PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, it did hammer home a consistent message of four key growth areas it wants partners to focus on: big data and analytics, cloud computing, mobility and social business.

Channel chief Mark Hennessy (pictured above) and a succession of IBM stressed the opportunities IBM sees in these four areas and how it is investing heavily in these spaces, and also how partners need to adjust their marketing and selling motions for a changing pattern of IT buying, with the spend shifting more and more from the CIO to other c-suite operational leaders, such as the chief marketing officer.

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“We need to find ways to help our clients reduce costs and drive efficiency, and also go beyond that to help them enter new markets,” Hennessy told partners.

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IBM’s channel now includes some 132,000 partners worldwide, adding 13,000 new partners in 2012. Over 60 per cent were in emerging markets. Stressing the importance of the channel to IBM’s success, Hennessy said CEO Ginny Rometty has given IBM’s business unit leaders revenue targets that require channel growth if they’re to be reached.

“The participation rate for partners has to rise between now and 2015 for them to meet their objectives,” said Hennessy. “We can’t be successful unless the channel is successful.”

Partners need to adjust to a changing market, added Hennessy. Partners need to add a new level of value, whether it’s in a specific industry vertical or solution segment, and offer business value to clients. IBM is helping, spending $150 million annually on a channel demand generation engine it is working in improving, and getting aggressive on specific product incentives, in some cases guaranteeing margin.

Bruno Di Leo, IBM’s senior vice-president of global sales and distribution, said the IT industry has a history of innovation and commoditization, and IBM has a history of reinventing itself to target high growth opportunities and high value markets. That’s what’s behind the vendor’s focus on these four key growth areas, and the overarching vision of integrated systems and software-defined environments. It means new clients, new buyers and new markets for IBM and its partners.

“It’s about making technology more relevant beyond the office of the CIO,” said DiLeo. “We believe profoundly that it’s all about expertise. Not technical skills, but connecting to the day to day business of your clients. You need to understand the industry of your client and their business. We want you to invest. We want you to commit. We want you to think there is a major opportunity to move your company into this new era of computing.”

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IBM did make one piece of news on Tuesday, announcing a set of initiatives to help business partners embrace opportunities in these four growth areas. The initiatives include offering partners one year of free access to IBM’s cloud-based Digital Analytics technology, to make use of analytics in their own businesses as well as better explain the benefits of analytics and big data to potential clients. It’s based on technology IBM acquired when it bought Ottawa-based Cognos.

Also, IBM’s Systems and Technology Group is increasing its dedicated channel sales and technical sales specialists by 50 per cent in 2013 to help partners close more opportunities, and IBM Power Systems has launched new incentives and certifications.

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