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IBM sweetens the pot for partners

Big Blue aims to rapidly expand its application partner network with a more structured program for recruiting allies.

IBM is expanding its push to recruit application providers, a key battleground in its ongoing offensive against Microsoft.

On Tuesday, Big Blue detailed a program designed to simplify the process of becoming an "advanced partner" of IBM. An advanced partner is one that has committed to using IBM's hardware and middleware as part of a packaged application offering and has at least one common customer with IBM, said Buell Duncan, the company's general manager of developer and independent software vendor relations.

In the past, IBM recruited partners but in a more ad hoc fashion, Duncan said. The new program includes sales and marketing incentives for application partners, such as access to IBM's advertising discounts and a system to enlist IBM's sales personnel worldwide to close deals.

Citing a recent survey, Duncan said that independent software vendors are showing a greater interest in working with IBM. He predicted that the company will be able to get more than 10,000 advanced partners into the IBM fold in two years.

"Over the last 18 months, we've seen consideration and preferences, which are two major factors for partners, go up (by) double digits--and seen a decline of almost that amount with Microsoft," Duncan said.

IBM significantly beefed up its outreach to application companies earlier this year. Big Blue's strategy is to seek out thousands of application providers tied to IBM's hardware and software and to sell to customers along industry-specific lines. That program now has about 2,000 members worldwide, according to the company.

Overall, about 60,000 independent software vendors work with IBM, the company said.