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Big Blue cedes software and systems training biz to partners

Changing the channel to pump it up

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IBM is getting out of selling education and training services to customers for its Software Group and Systems and Technology Group, and shifting to an indirect sales model through a new training channel that it has set up.

Steve Mills, who is in charge of the converged Software and Systems Group (which even IBM doesn't talk about as a single entity for the most part), snuck out a blog post on the new education and training channel program on June 27, but the effort was not formally announced until July 12.

"This is an important initiative, one which we did not approach lightly," Mills explained in his blog post. "With this partner-led model, we believe our training will be accessible in more countries; available in more formats; better mapped to clients' business goals; and focus on skill development across a range of disciplines."

IBM has tapped two familiar companies – Arrow Electronics and Avnet – to be the master distributors of training and education developed by Big Blue. These two companies are, as you well know, the two main conduits through which most of IBM's systems customers get their machinery. (The exception is the several thousand top accounts in the world that Big Blue keeps to manage for itself.) Arrow's Enterprise Computing System group and Avnet's Technology Solutions group both have loads of experience selling and supporting IBM's systems and systems software, so it is no surprise they are going to be two of the conduits for education and training.

IBM has also worked out deals with Global Knowledge and LearnQuest, specialists in IT training with a heavy emphasis on IBM System z, Power Systems, and System x already, as well as a slew of IBM operating systems, middleware, database, and other systems software for these platforms.

Bob McDonald, who is vice president of the cross-group IBM Training division, was not able to divulge how much revenue that education and training generates for Big Blue, but he did give a sense of the scale of the operation and what IBM's goals are.

"We are providing between 150,000 and 200,000 student-days of training per year, and we are trying to grow that by a factor of three in the next couple of years," says McDonald. "The time was right to try a different approach, and we believe we can get there faster with the channel approach."

As it turns out, customers were looking to get IBM training from the same people that they were already either getting systems or software from, or in the case of GlobalKnowledge and LearnQuest, training for that systems and software. (So when do the latter become downstream system sellers from Avnet or Arrow selling systems and software? Hmmm...)

The way the Global Training Provider channel works is that IBM provides the four partners with its education and training materials, which they can in turn peddle unchanged or modify to suit the needs of their downstream channel partners and end-user customers. As is the case with Avnet and Arrow with systems, the four training distributors are expected to build their own reseller channels to help push education and training as well as testing and certification services.

Over time, IBM will add more partners as conditions in specific geographic regions dictate. The intent is for this to be global and tailored to specific geographies, markets, and customer sets.

El Reg knows what you are thinking. With IBM trying to cut costs all over the place to meet its 2015 financial plan, is this shift to a training channel more about making more money after shedding some employees? McDonald says that the real impetus was to get more people trained up on IBM solutions. He was not at liberty to say if IBM would be able to get more profits by doing it this way, but you have to figure if it weren't more profitable, then Big Blue would not be doing it. ®

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