IBM Innovate 2010 Rational software developers conference

Upbeat tempo, an enormous audience of 4000 people and an inspirational keynote by Dean Kamen left me impressed with this year’s IBM Rational software developer’s conference.
Steve Mills’ keynote reminded me (not that I could ever forget) of IBM’s huge momentum in the software industry. One just has to look at their breadth and depth of offerings and number and scale of their investments over recent past to be mindful of the significance that IBM places on their software business. Interesting to note at this particular event that their embedded systems impetus, which one could argue was waning some years ago under Rational brand has been revitalised following the Telelogic acquisition. Responsibility for this programme has recently been placed under the direction of Meg Selfe in a unit called ‘Complex and Embedded Systems’.
Meg’s background appears to be ideally suitable for the Systems and Embedded role not only in recent past within IBM but also in her former experiences in both technology and management in companies such as GM and Motorola. Discussions with her and the ever insightful Neeraj Chandra highlighted IBM’s significant interest in covering more than just the software lifecycle; to that point it’s interesting to note PTC’s recent forays into the realms of application lifecycle (notably software) management with announced support of open source technologies such as Bugzilla, Eclipse and Subversion in their PLM platform Windchill. IBM’s intention is forecast to provide the (tools and) frameworks to support an extended play in the PLM space. Key to this, as always, is the engagement and support of both customers and other software suppliers – with customer needs driving more intimate partnerships. I’d be surprised if we don’t hear more on this soon.
Cloud computing. Hyperbole or fact? Fact, I believe. Although (I’d argue that) the technology is somewhat more evolutionary than revolutionary, the interest level in understanding what, how and why is at an all time high. The cloud sessions I attended were packed to the gunnels reflecting real interest on the values and application of the concept. It’s also apparent that the field is still rapidly evolving, notably within IBM. What I saw and heard at the event was skewed to the larger enterprise but what will be interesting to see is whether IBM will extend their programs to support smaller to mid-size developers and their customers; areas in which Microsoft (Azure) and Google (App Engine) and to a lesser extent Amazon (EC2) appear to currently have more significant aspirations.

Taxal at COFES 2010

COFES is a unique event that brings together executives from design, engineering, architectural, development and technology companies together with a select group of end users of technology to understand the role engineering technology will play in the future survival and success of business.

This year’s event was well attended with over 260 attendees ( with a handful of participants not able to make the journey due to air travel restrictions from Europe. Most Europeans were delayed in their return journey, but speaking personally I can at least be grateful for being stranded in sunny climes and in the hospitable company of Al Dean and Martyn Day, publishers of Develop3D.

Of the first time attendees to COFES, I was delighted to host Kristian Talvitie from PTC, Frank Patz-Brockmann from Contact Software, Vinay Wagle from CADCAM-E and Rupert Poon from Romax Technology. Hopefully they found our briefings and discussions worthwhile, as did all with whom I spoke.

Highlights of the event included the many varied discussions in both formal and informal session. Amongst the many topics were those on new product developments, industry and end-user trends, and the opportunities and challenges facing the industry and our customers.

Insightful keynotes of specific note were delivered by Peter Marks (Blind Spotting : FACTS FIRST) and Bo Burlingham (Got Mojo?). I understand that videos and sound recordings (of these and other sessions) are due to be posted on-line at the COFES web site in the near future and I thoroughly recommend taking a few minutes to listen to/watch them.

My particular technology suite briefing focused on ‘Cloud and Channel’; a thought provoking session with excellent interaction from the many and varied participants. Based on the fact that there was standing room only for this meeting, this is a topic that’s near and dear to many of the attendees’ hearts; end user and suppliers alike. My thanks to Kenneth Wong from Desktop Engineering for his published excerpts which can be found on his observations page .

So it appears that 2010 will be the year of the channel…..

Reinforcing this sentiment, the likes of Cisco, McAffee and IBM have made some significant announcements of recent times which ramp up their channel initiatives. Some of these appear to be to the detriment of their direct operations, yet of simultaneous but converse potential benefit to small to medium sized businesses and the channels that support and supply them.
In response to both recognition from both Channel Insider and Business Solutions magazines earlier this year, McAffee’s Fernando Quintero, their vice president of channel operations for the Americas, cites that 2010 will be the year of the channel. In addition Sandy Carter, IBM Vice President, Software Group Business Partners recent announcement on channels and offerings endorses the sentiment that the channel has much more to offer to the small and mid markets. Moreover, as the longstanding powerhouse in larger accounts, IBM last week announced some pretty significant commitments to channel. But they’re not alone. The likes of Cisco, HP and Microsoft et al haven’t exactly stood still in the channel race although Sun, interestingly enough, appears to be on a path to reduce commitment with recent announcements on a shift of major account activities away from channel to direct operations.
So what does that mean for the customer? At the end of the day they’re the ones that need to see value from any shift to, or increased focus on the channel. Of course, it is an age old adage that many customers prefer local service. These customers appreciate not only the capabilities of their channel suppliers; they like the people, but they also like to feel the confidence that can only come from the assurance of the big IT vendors.
In the past the sales gap, if I can call it that, between direct and indirect was often driven by a lack of commitment and support – to the channel. At lower margins, the dichotomy of direct vs. indirect targets as well as the threat of cannibalisation of direct revenue is undoubtedly an issue, but these problems are solvable or at least manageable. Good and clear strategies, cogent, fair engagement rules, competent partners and good channel management all can make the difference.
So what happens now? Obviously we’ll have to wait and see how the channel responds to emerging opportunities, but early indicators (and indeed the findings of my own research last year) indicate a very favourable reception leading to increased revenues, loyalty to innovative vendors and, of course, increased choice and value to the end users.
What’s next? Well much is still to be done particularly in the oft-challenging areas of empowerment and enablement. They pose as the industry’s next hurdles. (Easy to say, not so easy to do.) Clearly this leads to many new options, as well as providing the opportunity to initiate a break with traditional views on the value and deliverables of the channel. To this end, I believe one of the ‘big things’ in 2010 will be the ‘cloud through the channel’ – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the likes of IBM and Cisco. Indeed Symantec’s Deepak Mohan, senior vice president, Information Management Group, notes in their recent 2010 State of the Data Centre that “Although mid-sized enterprises tend to evaluate and adopt new technologies at a faster rate than larger organizations, they still face the similar data centre complexities that are compounded by adopting new initiatives”. Isn’t this where the channel steps in?
Interesting times with exciting possibilities on the horizon – any views on the ‘cloud in the channel’ welcome!