IBM Reimagines Its Relationship with Partners: A Q&A with IBM Ecosystem General Manager Kate Woolley (Part 2)

By | 6 minute read | August 17, 2022

Kate Woolley was a veteran Bain & Company partner when IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna recruited her to become his chief of staff in 2020. During that time, she played an instrumental supporting role for the CEO, helping amplify his strategic priorities throughout the company. In January, Krishna asked Woolley to lead one of the company’s top growth areas – the IBM Ecosystem – and named her IBM Ecosystem General Manager.

In part two of this Q&A series, Woolley talks about her priorities and plans for growing the IBM Ecosystem.

“There are two big themes around which I am focusing the IBM Ecosystem team. The first is our commitment to being easy to do business with. The second big theme is being essential to our partners.”

You’ve mentioned wanting to see IBM Ecosystem revenue double within the next 3-5 years by executing against IBM’s Hybrid Cloud and AI strategy. How do you plan to achieve that?

The first piece of the plan has been putting the IBM Ecosystem front-and-center to help execute against IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI strategy. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of IBM putting its full weight behind the ecosystem, making its partners a major priority. Beyond that, there are two big themes around which I am focusing the IBM Ecosystem team. The first is our commitment to being easy to do business with, to creating a single, frictionless end-to-end experience.

The second big theme is being essential. That means we are committed to supporting our partners no matter where they are and however they engage with us – whether it’s building on or with IBM technology, building services around IBM technology, or selling IBM technology. Another important component of being essential involves marketing and demand generation. We need to keep generating more demand for our partners with IBM’s leading hybrid cloud platform and AI products.

What is your top priority for your strategic partners in 2022?

In 2020 and 2021, our focus was on generating awareness and building the relationships that would lead us to business development opportunities for the ecosystem. We achieved that, as you saw from coverage of our partnerships with SAP and others.

Now, the strategy is growth with all our ecosystem partner types, including our strategic partners which comprise some of the world’s largest technology companies.

Additionally, we’ve built a significant partner motion around our consulting businesses as well – IBM Consulting – with practices tied to SAP, Salesforce, Adobe and Microsoft Azure and AWS. This year, the goal is to scale those practices and integrate more of IBM software and technology with these platform players.

Can you illustrate how you will scale, as well as integrate more of IBM software and technology with platform partners?  

In our recent organizational changes, we included the hyperscalers, consultancy, and other large strategic partner businesses as part of the overall IBM Ecosystem. This means that all ecosystem partner types belong to our organization so that our ecosystem works seamlessly together to leverage partners’ strengths as part of the growth strategy.

This also lets us scale meaningfully. Take for instance that we have recently made IBM software available on third-party clouds, including Microsoft Azure, and a recent announcement expanding our strategic partnership and launching an extensive portfolio of IBM SaaS products on the AWS Marketplace. We are enabling clients to consume and build with IBM anywhere and everywhere.

This is a very different strategy than we had even two years ago, and it has already started to pay dividends. For every dollar of hybrid platform revenue, IBM and our ecosystem partners can generate three to five dollars of software, six to eight dollars of services, and one to two dollars of infrastructure revenue. [1]

What do you see as the biggest market opportunity for the strategic partners you work with?

The greatest opportunity for our strategic partners is to enable Red Hat across all their platforms and align the IBM set of technology consulting expertise with those platform players.

I think the number one area is application modernization, which also includes mainframe modernization. These are at the core of how most enterprises run some of their most important records and financial and transactional systems. Another opportunity is automation, particularly embedding AI into the next-generation operations of the cloud. The third area is data: integrating and analyzing enterprise data in both public and private clouds. And the fourth area is security. Every C-suite is thinking about security, trust, privacy, and cyber risk.

These partners want to team up with IBM because large enterprises trust our solutions in security, data, applications in AI, and the next generation of cloud and hybrid cloud architecture. Clients not only want IBM’s help, but they also want our ecosystem’s deep industry expertise to help implement these solutions.

What changes were made to the IBM Partner Portal when it was relaunched recently? How have IBM’s partners reacted to the improvements?

We’re changing the way we interact with our partners, and the initial reactions have been positive. One way we are doing this is through our tools – for example, we are enabling faster collaboration by streamlining the IBM Partner Portal, which was updated in April and significantly improved how we work with partners. We consolidated 45 tools into 1, introduced an easier deal registration process, and enabled direct engagement with IBM sellers. This includes integrated collaboration functionality through Chatter which enables real-time conversations for our partners.

We have also implemented new processes and technology to accelerate deal sharing, getting more qualified sales opportunities faster to the right partners with Auto Deal Share in the IBM Partner Portal. This has reduced the average time it takes to share a deal with partners by 70%. The deal sharing process that used to take 13 days is now less than 96 hours. So far, partner feedback has been positive.

Our team is working in an agile way to introduce new functionality each week. That said, there’s more to come as we seek to continuously improve the partner experience, so I encourage partners to raise ideas with us that we can take into account along the way.

From your perspective what will it take to “win” with partners and for clients? Put another way, what does winning look like?

I’m anchoring my definition of winning on my commitment to double IBM Ecosystem revenue in the next three to five years. A large part of that will be accessing the $1 trillion hybrid cloud and AI market through our ecosystem partnerships. What we are building as the ecosystem will let us work together to speed innovation and growth for our clients through IBM’s hybrid cloud platform.

Winning is also about ensuring that our go-to-market approach comes to life to make that growth possible for our partners and IBM. Beyond that, our partners have a choice as to who they want to partner with, and my job is to make that choice IBM. So for me, winning means having an ecosystem of partners that love working with us and who see us as an essential part of their success.

Explore our partner success stories to see how our ecosystem is leveraging IBM technology to drive growth and learn more about what it means to partner with us.

This is the second of a two part Q&A series. Click here to read the first part. 

[1] IBM Earnings, Q4 2021