Partner program updates from ServiceNow and IBM this month highlight the role of service providers that deliver offerings across multiple product lines and focus on transformation versus reseller transactions.
The changes underscore technology vendors' reliance on partners to unlock large, complex enterprise IT opportunities that increasingly feature AI. The revised programs, which offer a mix of specialized credentialing, co-innovation and marketing support, intend to help partners pursue transformational deals as opposed to isolated product sales.
Bill McDermott, CEO of ServiceNow, emphasized the transformation theme and the importance of partners during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call last week. He said the company will continue to expand its "strategic partnerships" so that enterprises "can use AI as the cornerstone of business transformation."
ServiceNow offers partner specializations
ServiceNow last week expanded its partner program with three specializations: Service Operations, Serve the Customer and Power the Employee. The specializations, which ServiceNow partners can begin pursuing in the second quarter, cover IT service delivery, customer service and employee experience, respectively.
Erica Volini, senior vice president of global partnerships at ServiceNow, said the specializations focus on business issues rather than taking a product-oriented view. The intent is to "open up the door to drive digital transformation," she said.
"The partners who have specializations know how to sell business issues and have the people to deliver business transformation," Volini said.
The emphasis on broader transformation appeals to Jason Rosenfeld, CEO at Cask, a ServiceNow Elite partner based in San Diego.
"What I love about the new partner specialization program is it is not about an individual product, but really focused on different digital transformation activities or initiatives," he said.
Rosenfeld said the partner specializations build on ServiceNow's product line achievements (PLAs). A PLA credential recognizes ServiceNow partners that demonstrate deployment experience and customer satisfaction on a particular ServiceNow product.
"The partner specialization announcement is rolling that up into a higher level: digital transformation across critical enterprise initiatives," he said, citing Service Operations, Serve the Customer and Power the Employee as examples.
ServiceNow updates Partner Finder
Rosenfeld also cited ServiceNow's revamped Partner Finder as an important program update. The revised Partner Finder lets customers see a partner's customer satisfaction scores and number of engagements by product line.
Previously, customers could only see that information at a high level -- an overall customer satisfaction score, for example.
ServiceNow's recent AI additions also offer partner benefits. Rosenfeld said features such as text-to-code "enable partners to move faster for their customers."
The text-to-code capability debuted with the Now Platform Vancouver release in September 2023.
IBM invests in service provider category
IBM, meanwhile, is upping its investment in service partners, focusing on co-created services and demand generation, among other areas.
"Service partners play a critical role in influencing and driving adoption of IBM's portfolio," said Kate Woolley, general manager of IBM Ecosystem. "We want to make sure we put the right support and benefits around it."
In IBM's Partner Plus program, which replaced PartnerWorld last year, service partners include consulting firms, MSPs and systems integrators. IBM now offers a separate program track for such partners. The distinction between service companies and other types of partners had been missing from the previous iteration of IBM's partner program, said Olivier May, global chief commercial officer for IBM at Deloitte Consulting.
When he began managing Deloitte's IBM alliance two and a half years ago, the partnering model was geared toward the channel partner of the 1980s or 1990s -- product resellers.
"I am super pumped to see they have changed that," May said. "It is enabling them to have a more targeted and thoughtful approach based on the different companies they are dealing with. Not all partners are alike."
The revised program offers better support for companies such as Deloitte, which May said addresses clients' business challenges and delivers the appropriate technology -- as opposed to reselling products.
Other partner ecosystem developments
Here's a sample of recent partner-vendor collaborations:
- Kyndryl has jointly developed two secure edge services in conjunction with Cisco. Kyndryl Consult Security Services Edge aims to provide a modular approach for implementing an SSE architecture using Cisco technology. The company also rolled out a managed SSE service.
- SoftwareOne Holding is working with Dynatrace to expand the reach of Dynatrace's observability product across SAP systems. SoftwareOne's PowerConnect for SAP can gather data from most SAP offerings for analysis within Dynatrace, according to SoftwareOne.
- Deloitte and Memcyco have entered a cybersecurity partnership, focusing on Memcyco's anti-impersonation software.
Partnering on ESG, generative AI
IBM's latest partner foray includes resources for co-creating service offerings. May cited the ability to receive investment dollars from IBM to build assets. One example of collaboration: a version of Deloitte's GreenLight sustainability offering that integrates with IBM's Envizi, an environmental, social and governance (ESG) SaaS suite.
As for demand generation, IBM provides marketing funds for hosting targeted events in areas such as sustainability, cybersecurity, hybrid cloud and AI, May added.
IBM also works with partners to pilot its Watsonx generative AI platform with customers and create Watsonx centers of excellence. The company last week teamed up with NTT Data Business Solutions on a center of excellence for Watsonx.
"We are working with a lot of different partners to establish centers of excellence," Woolley said. Those partners include Accenture, EY, Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro, in addition to NTT.
ServiceNow, meanwhile, has expanded its generative AI alliance with EY. The consultancy will focus on compliance, governance and risk management, using ServiceNow's Now Assist generative AI.
Volini pointed to AI-based transformation as an opportunity for the ServiceNow partner ecosystem.
"I don't see any transformation happening without generative AI in the core," she said.
John Moore is a writer for TechTarget Editorial covering the CIO role, economic trends and the IT services industry.