Mark Davison is at IBM PartnerWorld at Think in San Francisco – Software solutions in the form of AI, machine learning and data analytics may be the flavour of the moment, but there is still room – and money – to be made for the channel in the sale of hardware systems that underpin these new technologies and platforms.

This is the word from Mary Coucher, VP, WW Systems Sales at IBM Partner Ecosystem, who emphasises this point further: “As you’ve heard during various keynotes, there is no AI (artificial intelligence) without IA (Information Architecture), which is the systems group. We underpin every solution that IBM offers. It’s not exclusive, you can run the solutions on other systems, but we underpin the whole software range for the organisation.”

Coucher says that IBM intends to grow systems sales through the channel at double the rate of direct sales and is implementing a number of steps to ensure this.

“We have some very important initiatives in the channel,” Coucher says. “What are we doing differently? We have named some products that are channel-only – brand sales don’t get paid if they don’t go through the channel with these. Obviously, it is not all of our products, but a huge portion. Mainframe products are typically still direct sales.”

Coucher says that among the products exclusive to the channel are Power, Storewize in the storage portfolio, and LinuxOne.

“The whole worldwide organisation has moved towards selling through channel organisations and to help them sell,” she says. “It is our responsibility to find clients and feed them through to the channel. It’s exciting because we’re selling to a lot of new clients and it’s something we’re doing differently.”

Last May, the group launched an incentive – In it to own it – aimed specifically at partner reps and Coucher says the response to this has been phenomenal.

“It’s taken off,” she says. “It’s an incentive to partner reps, specifically in storage, flash arrays, areas we know we want to grow and reps can make a meaningful amount of money signing up for it.”

With a global shortage of skills, training is another area that IBM is focusing on – both internally and in the channel.

And training in the skills required by the new digital economy need not cost partners an arm and a leg as in days gone by.

“There is a lot of product training offered to all our partners,” Coucher says. “When it comes to costs, the way we work it is with vouchers which partners earn and can then redeem for training. There are areas where skills are very tight – AI and data science, for example. There’s an industry shortage, so it’s a great time to be a scientist.”

It could also be a great time to be an IBM business partner with a number of other programmes due to be announced over the coming days, weeks and months.