In her time as managing director of IBM New Zealand Katrina Troughton has seen plenty of change, but not all of it has been driven by technological advancement.
“You can’t ignore the change in clients’ interests around sustainability,” she says. “Four years ago, even the idea that you’d have clients being regulated and having targets, I’m not sure people foresaw that to the degree we’re seeing it today.”
This year, with four new categories (including one for energy efficiency) and a widening variety of projects, the 2008 IBM Business Partner Awards has provided a new set of challenges for the judges. “We moved from a set of all the entrants to a shortlist of finalists that we thought should be three, but only managed to narrow it down to five. That says something in itself.”
The addition of the new categories, including a People’s Choice Award, introduced a level of uncertainty. “Whenever you do that you worry no one will respond, but we had an amazing number of responses to that, which reinforced to us how important the reseller community is to our clients. In the new categories we also have the Rookie of the Year, as well as the Co-Marketing and Energy Efficient awards.”
Difficult to define, says Troughton, are the judging criteria and how they fit organisations working in contrasting environments. “Can you compare a mid-market solution in Christchurch, for example, with one for a government department that might touch every person in the country, or a solution from one of our partners in Fiji? We have to make sure the criteria are applied across a variety of entrants.”
There isn’t one particular kind of project the judges favour, but they do want to see technology used to its full capacity, as well as a strong relationship, and a clear partner commitment to client success. “The most interesting parts to read are always the comments you get from the clients about the projects,” says Troughton.
Since the Awards’ inception in 2006, industry trends have become evident from the submission documents alone, she says. “Three years ago, virtualisation projects of any scale were relatively rare,” she says. “They had an element of innovation and newness, whereas now they really need to have something else.”
Is sustainability the new virtualisation?
From a lot of “quite specific point solutions” among the first year’s entrants, the Awards have evolved to be dominated by far more complex, all-encompassing projects. “Three years ago, I’m not sure having an energy-efficient solution would have actually got any interest and now, of course, we have a host of entries. That’s a real sign of how much the market and our focus has changed. At a global level, clients will spend more on their power than they will on their servers, so that really changes the dynamics of what people are focusing on.”
The judging criteria vary according to the category, with measurable project success being an important component in the new categories. “In the energy-efficient category, you’d expect to see some criteria around exactly how they measure and show it was effective and what kind of savings they made. In the co-marketing campaign, it was about what kind of money they spent and the return they got.”
It is usually clear to the judges when entrants have thought about the criteria before making their submissions and the finalists have usually, but not always, finished their projects rather than entering them in mid-stream. “Understanding the criteria and making sure you pick the right project is important. We’re looking for people who continue to represent the broader IBM brand and work with the clients in the way we’d like to be seen to be working with them.”
Category winners are more likely to be those that can demonstrate business value to the client than those that provide in-depth documentation. “It’s easy to be detailed in a submission, but it doesn’t matter if the detail isn’t relevant. So the winner won’t necessarily be the company that did the most detailed submission. It’s about being able to get your message across clearly and demonstrate why what you delivered is the best fit. We do have an interview process with the clients and that’s an opportunity to ask some questions and fill in some gaps.”
Trying times an opportunity
Troughton offers words of encouragement for the reseller community by saying there are plenty of reasons for optimism in spite of the trying economic conditions, and that it’s at times like these that you see new leaders emerging. “We can spend all our time focusing on how bad things are, or we can also look at the opportunities. The thing I find encouraging is that we’re in an industry that can offer numerous things to help clients if they’re worrying about how they’re going to survive, cut costs and manage a business through a challenging period. We’re about helping our clients to drive productivity and help them survive, and there are clients that will capitalise on this time to grow their business.”
Apart from a drive towards sustainability, another literal shift Troughton has witnessed is in the location of the labour force and how work is executed. “At a global level, there are huge amounts of work shifting and being done in various places and I think we’ll see New Zealand clients start to experiment with that — whether parts of projects or business process or application development being delivered from the Philippines, Vietnam, India or China; all places we work with a lot.”
Troughton puts this down not only to the complexity of modern projects, but also to the need for specialised skills and capabilities. “We’re short on skills in our market and even if that improves there will still be a big gap. Increasingly, we’ll need to look offshore for skills that don’t exist here and, as the array of technologies being integrated gets more complex, that requirement might extend further.”
Troughton says IBM is encouraged by the level of commitment it sees between its partners and their clients, deeper levels of skill and more innovative uses of its technology. “It’s stepped up another notch, and that’s a credit to our partners for continuing to invest in their skills and capabilities.”
That’s not the end of the story for this year’s winners. They have the opportunity to enter IBM’s global business partner awards, the Beacon Awards, which will be presented at IBM’s annual PartnerWorld event in 2009.