Why is Collaboration Matters an IBM business partner?

ibm_bp_logoCollaboration Matters partners with a number of strategic vendors, including Socialtext, Atlassian, Redhat and VMWare.  In varying degrees, all are a vital foundation to what we do.

However, most readers of this blog will be aware that our most significant vendor relationship is with IBM – that has been the way throughout my 17 year career since graduation, and in the almost four years since Collaboration Matters was formed.  IBM is the thread that runs through my career – AIX, RS/6000, SSA, ADSM, Notes, SP2, TSM, MagStar, pSeries, LTO, MQ, Tivoli Monitoring, xSeries, Domino, Sametime, Quickr, Connections and on.  Whilst not all those technologies are still around, all have been transformative for both my customers and for me personally.  

Many of those products are Lotus-branded software (of course), but many are not – operating systems, disk technologies, tape standards, middleware, server platforms.  Unlike some in the Lotus community, my contact with the greater IBM goes way beyond just the brand that they acquired in 1995.  I’ve seen the breath and depth of solutions that IBM can offer to customers, both direct and through partners such as those I’ve worked for.

Many of the most important personal relationships built during my career have been with IBMers, from hardware engineers through customer reps, country managers, salespeople, product managers, community managers, marketers and even VPs.   I value and cherish those friendships.  Although I’ve worked closely with other vendors including HP and Microsoft for extended periods of time, I have never made the same type of connection with their staff.  Whether it’s down to similarity of approach, attitude, ethics or just simply because we get along, I’ve always found IBMers generally a real pleasure to work with and get to know.

If you listen to the This Week in Lotus podcast, or read my posts over an extended period of time, you’ll also be aware that I don’t always agree 100% with IBM’s product decisions, marketing efforts, policies or approach.  This is sometimes seen as criticism, often unfair criticism when coming from a partner.  This is a tough one to deal with.  Over the 17 years, I have been overwhelmingly positive about IBM’s vision and products, else I wouldn’t still be so entwined with them.  

However, I am not an IBM employee, Collaboration Matters is not an IBM subsidiary.  Whilst we greatly respect and appreciate IBM and its products, our only responsibility is to our customers, ourselves and our shareholders.  We are selected by our customers for our independence and focused approach – we know and use the opposition, and we do not have corporate demands on us to sell other IBM hardware, services and products.  In short, Collaboration Matters is a ‘trusted advisor’ – we can be trusted to offer an IBM-loyal yet independent approach.  We would never take a customer request for Connections and unilaterally turn it into a Socialtext or Jive sale for example, and yet if a customer asks ‘I hear that Connections is weak in area XYZ, is that true? How do the other vendors deal with that?’ then they can rely on us to give a straight answer.  I believe that for every customer that suggests that something said on TWiL or the blog is damaging to IBM’s cause, we have ten or more that value that independence of approach and the integrity of the comment.

So back to the question I posed in the title… Why is Collaboration Matters an IBM business partner?

Over 17 years, I fundamentally believe that IBM has upheld the best interests of its customers and partners. Undoubtedly it is a commercial organisation and has its own requirements to add shareholder value and deliver profits, but within those constraints I believe it does a terrific job of walking alongside both customers and partners to deliver exceptional solutions.  Sure there have been missteps along the way, and there will be more in the future, but if you look back over the 17% of IBM’s history that I have experienced IBM has been a great organisation to work with.  

Life as an IBM Business Partner is an interesting tightrope to walk; being at times a customer, other times an alliance partner, sometimes a nuisance, and occasionally an outright competitor.  

However, I believe that these three things are true…  Collaboration Matters can do more business and be more profitable through being an IBM partner.  Customers can obtain better solutions and services through Collaboration Matters and IBM combined than they could from either organisation alone.  IBM understands the requirements of the customer in more depth and delivers a much more targeted and rounded service to the customer when they work with us.  All three elements gain from the relationship, and the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.  For me, that is the definition of being a partner.

This video from IBM UK explains what IBM partners can do in a really good way – I wish I could have been involved:

Through my career and and now as I look to 2012 and beyond, I’m proud that I can say ‘I am an IBM Business Partner’.

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!