IM-Link replaces and builds upon its long-served Ingram Micro Services Network (IMSN), providing a framework for partner-to-partner services engagements.
The distributor is starting with 15 North American partners who cover a broad array of services around Big Blue’s software lineup. In total, the IBM virtual bench now represents some 26 IBM partner specializations, including security, BPM, portal and Websphere, messaging and collaboration, risk analytics, Cognos, Big Data and Netezza.
“This is really the value proposition for the [IM-Link] platform,” said John Redman, manager of professional services for Ingram Micro. “It allows our partner to go offer, pursue, and make available services where they may not have that specific technical expertise. It means they can say ‘Yes.’”
IM-Link aims to further codify and automate a practice as old as the channel itself – outsourcing part or all of a particular opportunity that falls outside of the domain of expertise of the solution provider that owns the customer. Its goal is to serve as both marketplace and Better Business Bureau – partners who sign up to deliver services on behalf of other Ingram Micro partners are required to sign off on non-compete and non-disclosure agreements, as well as abiding by the community’s terms of service, which are based around a set of best practices. In other words, it’s built to significantly reduce the chances that partner-to-partner connections – particularly those where there are no existing business or personal relationships between the parties – go as smoothly as possible for all involved.
Until now, though, its lineup has been strictly generic or non-vendor-specific services – offerings have included asset disposition, hardware and software support, installation and configuration, and assessment and design services. Getting vendor-specific services into the network is an important step if IM-Link is to fulfill its promise as a clearinghouse and ombudsman for services capabilities in the channel, and in turn drive increased partner loyalty and mindshare for its parent distributor. So while bringing on services related to just one side of Big Blue’s product portfolio is a small step, it’s an important one in the evolution of the network.
It also brings IM-Link higher up the value chain, and as additional relationships come on board, makes the service more relevant to a variety of solution providers. For it to reach its promise and deliver the best returns for all involved – the distributor, the service providers, and the partners seeking services help – it has to ramp fast, and introducing high-profile and very specialized services from vendors is a good way to do that. Managed correctly, it can provide a steady chain of business to the service providers without any hunting, and can provide a variety of flexible pinch hitters for solution provider to call off the bench in specific and infrequently-occurring scenarios.
While the first wave covers IBM’s software portfolio, the distributor does say that it intends to add services capabilities around IBM’s hardware lineup, including its servers, storage, and its PureSystems converged systems by the end of 2013.
Building out the vendor-specific side of the story is just one part of IM-Link, though. Redman said the company is working on making its site a way for IM-Link partners to manage dispatches from their services bench, as well as bringing out a mobile-friendly version of the site so services professionals in the field can report in. Ultimately, the distributor sees the site morphing into a white-labeled site where customers can submit and track their services requests.
“We want to make it a really quick avenue for partners to boost their services capabilities,” Redman said.
Still IM-Link is in its infancy. Since its launch in April, the company has signed up 55 new partners as providers of service, with another 150 on their way to acceptance in the program.