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    2023 Top 10 SMB Business Issues, IT Priorities, IT Challenges
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    2023 Top 10 Channel Partner Business Challenges, Marketing Priorities
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    2023 Channel Partner Trends
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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

IBM’s Transformation of Watson into watsonx and Launch of QRadar Suite: Enhancing Security and AI Capabilities

I have been a regular attendee of IBM Think for many years. The recently held IBM Think 2023 was a defining moment in more ways than one. First, IBM presented a cohesive narrative around Open Hybrid Cloud, Security, AI, and Ecosystem that resonated with customers and partners. Second, IBM demonstrated its commitment to helping companies leverage AI by introducing watsonx. This platform includes foundation models, generative AI, and a governance toolkit. Finally, at its recent Think event, IBM emphasized the impact of ChatGPT and AI on businesses and demonstrated the capabilities of watsonx. The company also highlighted the importance of its partner ecosystem and announced plans to invest in and expand its network to double its revenues. In this article, I will discuss several strategic initiatives that are likely to make a significant impact. In particular, I will delve into the details of the new QRadar suite, the generative AI capabilities of watsonx, and IBM’s efforts to empower partner success.

The rise in remote work and global interconnectivity of devices has brought significant changes and challenges to cybersecurity. Organizations are dealing with complex IT systems that require better visibility, threat detection, and incident response capabilities. Adopting cloud technology, especially hybrid cloud environments, has further complicated the situation. Security teams need help to secure public-facing applications running in the cloud and ensure all applications are up to date.

There is a growing demand for gathering more security data to enhance visibility. However, data collection can be costly and complicated, particularly when transferring it between different cloud platforms. In addition, organizations deploy multiple security tools to protect their new cloud infrastructure, adding to the challenges faced by security professionals.

Organizations are setting up enhanced Security Operations Centers (SOCs) to address these challenges. However, SOC professionals often face overwhelming workloads and require user-friendly tools that can be integrated with different security products. In addition, manual investigation of threats slows down their response time. To address these challenges, IBM has introduced a range of security solutions, including the IBM QRadar Suite.

QRadar Suite: Overview

The QRadar Suite is a subscription-based (SaaS) offering that combines AI-enhanced versions of IBM's existing threat detection and response solutions into a comprehensive global product. It represents a significant advancement and expansion of the QRadar brand, encompassing all critical technologies related to threat detection, investigation, and response. The original QRadar technology was integrated into IBM's portfolio after the acquisition of Q1 Labs in 2011. The new QRadar Suite goes beyond traditional security information and event management (SIEM) capabilities, aiming to provide a unified experience for security management. Its goal is to assist organizations in managing extended detection and response (EDR/XDR) capabilities, SIEM functionalities, and Security Orchestration Automation and Response (SOAR) in cybersecurity.

In addition, IBM has enhanced the suite's capabilities via strategic acquisitions. For example, the inclusion of SOAR capabilities results from the purchase of Resilient in 2016, while the EDR capabilities are attributed to the addition of ReaQta in 2021. Additionally, the QRadar Suite includes a new product, QRadar Log Insights, a cloud-based tool for security log management and federated search and investigation.

Standout Elements: Unified Interface, Automated Investigation, and Flexible Purchase

The QRadar Suite stands out due to three key features: a unified interface, automated investigation capabilities, and flexible purchase options.

Firstly, the suite has been developed in collaboration with security analysts, resulting in a unified and modernized interface that centralizes capabilities and workflows across IBM QRadar and 3rd party solutions. The Unified Analyst Experience (UAX) centralizes insights across both IBM and 3rd Party security tools, not just IBM products. It does this through its “Federated Search” capability. This consistent interface assists analysts throughout their investigation, response, and threat-hunting workflows across EDR/XDR, SIEM, SOAR, and Security Log Management (SLM). In addition, it empowers them to navigate the attack chain swiftly and efficiently, enhancing their response effectiveness.

Secondly, the suite includes Threat Investigator, an AI-powered automated investigation feature that helps manage and prioritize threat alerts by providing comprehensive details about threats and recommending automated response actions for quick mitigation. By automating the data mining processes across various security systems, Threat Investigator reduces the manual effort required for alert investigation, enabling faster response times. The suite also combines essential threat detection, research, and response technologies. Built on an open hybrid cloud platform (OpenShift), it enables extensive interoperability with over 900 pre-built integrations and has a comprehensive partner ecosystem. Leveraging MITRE and SIGMA natively, the suite allows security teams to adapt and keep pace with attackers seamlessly.

Thirdly, it offers flexible purchase options. Customers can obtain individual components separately or as a comprehensive suite. While most components are delivered as a service through AWS, the SIEM component is initially present on the IBM Cloud. It becomes available on AWS at the end of June, allowing for streamlined deployment, enhanced visibility, and seamless integration across cloud environments and data sources. In addition, the modular design of the suite enables customers to start using it with their desired products and easily add additional components as needed.

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Post-pandemic lead generation is proving problematic for channel partners

Six months have changed how SMBs and enterprises operate, how employees work, how customers purchase, and how products/services get delivered. A shift in go-to-market imperatives has become problematic for channel partners. Techaisle leveraged its panel of 225K channel partners to understand the impact of the pandemic on channel business. 49% of channel partners have allocated resources and budget for lead generation, but 60% rely on leads from vendors, an increase of 18% from pre-pandemic. 29% more channel partners than previously are finding social media as one of the most effective methods of lead generation. 46% of partners have increased their usage of analytics to drive leads, and 60% have increased influencer marketing.

Techaisle survey research data also shows that for 42% of channel partners, driving growth is the top business issue, especially with a clear focus on increasing the effectiveness of sales and marketing. Despite pandemic, 68% of channel partners expect revenue increases in the next year but have tempered their revenue growth expectations from 19% to slightly over 10%. Channel partners deploying digital transformation solutions expect ~2X revenue increase compared to those who are still not focused on digital transformation offerings for their customer base.

The requirement to focus on digital discovery conveys some hard truths. The first is that channel partners need to reach a large and diverse buyer population, extending beyond the IT department into business units and the executive suite, which means that marketers need to create and place various messages to keep the sales process on track. Another important implication is that prospects who engage with a vendor will represent a relatively small subset of the total potential market, as many buyers will disqualify suppliers before drafting a potential vendor list. The third implication follows the first two: to maximize the addressable market; channel partners need to embrace digital marketing as a way to gain entree to accounts that have not yet self-identified as prospects. Channel partners that rely on traditional lead generation campaigns realize that these funnels are reaching a diminishing share of the market.

Marketing has not been a primary focus for most channel businesses, and those that have invested in marketing staff have typically tasked them with optimizing access to vendor investment funds. Marketing’s need to add advanced digital competencies is challenging most channel partners. Vendors will need to provide programs that support content and digital marketing to ensure that their partners can engage with the largest possible number of prospective clients. Techaisle’s research highlights the core issue. Buyers, working in teams that average 5.1 individuals, typically don’t have meaningful contact with a supplier until they are 70% of the way through the purchase process.

All four of the top IT suppliers – Dell Technologies, Cisco, HPE, and IBM – have made partner marketing a priority.

  • Dell Technologies’ Cheryl Cook, SVP, Global Partner Marketing, is made it a mission to equip and educate partners with a series of guided podcasts and webinars
  • Cisco’s Boon Lai, VP, Global Partner Marketing, is enhancing the marketing velocity program
  • HPE’s Laura Seymour, Senior Director, Global Channel Marketing, is focused on Marketing Pro and Partner Marketing Concierge
  • IBM’s Catherine Solazzo, VP, Partner Ecosystem Performance Marketing is driving My Digital Marketing platform

If the customer journey begins with research conducted via the web, the marketing imperative must start with digital discovery. The channel partner marketing teams should take advantage of their IT suppliers’ initiatives, invest in putting thought leadership messages in front of prospective customers, and in the processes required to nurture new contacts to the point where they become sales-ready leads. Leaders at traditional channel partners will recognize this endpoint – but the process needed to arrive at this point is much different in the post-pandemic world.

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IBM empowering partner ecosystem to co-create the future

Enablement, execution, empowerment and experiences are the unwritten principles driving the entire IBM partner team in transforming the rules of partner engagement. At the recently concluded IBM PartnerWorld at Think conference in San Francisco, the term partner ecosystem was emblazoned across the entire IBM partner leadership team. Techaisle data shows that channel partners are faced with balancing investment in depth vs breadth and increasingly turning to a larger ecosystem for partner-to-partner collaboration. Between 2014-2018 there has been a 69% increase in opportunistic partner collaboration for sales. By using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to empower its partners, IBM is formalizing partner-to-partner collaboration and ecosystem, named IBM Business Partner Connect, built on Watson.

With an instant match capability, IBM Business Partner Connect has been designed to accelerate solutions for end-customers by matching partners looking for assistance with partners offering expertise. Business Partner Connect also allows partners to join the business partner Slack community to share best practices and find new partnership opportunities. In its pilot stage, approximately 800 partners participated, which unveiled 300 matches.

Enablement to Empowerment

In the current channel world – where core business conditions, market opportunities and requirements are all in flux – an opportunity to provide relevant guidance, targeted business advice from IBM, plus peer-level input, is an enormously important and valuable capability. Partners need guidance to transition through current market and business changes and a community is an appropriate context for this guidance, and leading the community will be IBM at the center of this dialogue/activity. Over time, Business Partner Connect and the community platform will give IBM the ability to involve a large number of partners, increase IBM’s centricity, and provide a revenue line into the channel operation.

It is quite evident that a key factor in IBM’s partner program’s momentum and transformation has been John Telstch’s leadership and his own ecosystem of senior leaders (Carola Cazenave, Jacqueline Woods, Catherine Solazzo, Chris Oliver, Jamie Mendez, Ken Gregory and Rose Nunez). He has been listening, responding and committing to having the channel partner’s back. Techaisle’s latest study of channel partners shows that 52% of partners want their vendor partner channel chiefs to be setting a clear overall strategy and 44% value trustworthiness and accountability. John gets a check mark on both these value traits.

Vendor organizations usually focus on simplifying drivers of channel enablement, but IBM is consciously extending enablement to empowerment to deliver customer success. Enablement (usually incentives) is a short-term lever to change immediate partner behavior for achieving sales quotas and revenue targets. Regardless of addressing short-term objectives, it is necessary. In Techaisle’s study, 50% of partners mentioned that incentive programs are important for marketing and sales. Empowerment helps partners transform themselves from a vendor’s sales agents to sales advocates especially when increasingly partners are focusing on business outcomes with hybrid/as-a-Service delivery solutions and shared-risk partnerships. IBM has spent the last one year in understanding the present and is working consciously and furiously in shaping the future.

Simplifying partner experiences

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IBM Acquires Red Hat – What does it mean and to whom

IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat makes sense on several levels: it adds a high-growth software portfolio to boost software and recurring revenue, and provides IBM with a bit of a ‘halo’ in the tech community, as it now controls the industry’s leading Open Source supplier.

Moving down a level, though, why might this acquisition matter – and to whom? Techaisle’s take on the most important angles that shaped and will determine the success of the deal. (Download Techaisle Take report)

Who does this matter to?

Imagine you are an enterprise with a large legacy infrastructure, possibly in a regulated industry (like financial services or government). You see that IT service delivery is advancing faster outside your walls than within your firm, as other businesses aggressively adopt cloud, Agile, DevOps and containers.

You are motivated to try to integrate these advanced platforms/products/methodologies into your environment as well – to capitalize on the advantages that they can deliver, or because you’re afraid that if you don’t act you’ll be left behind, watching competitors introduce new IT-enabled capabilities faster and at lower cost than you can.

In an organization like this, IT executives are unlikely to want to dive headlong into a deep/committed relationship with a public cloud provider like AWS. They will understand the importance of building a multi-cloud, hybrid IT infrastructure, but will want to manage that environment internally, with a focus on existing capabilities (both installed products and skills). “Cloud first” won’t be a living mandate – it might describe an approach to new and non-critical applications, but won’t be a serious consideration for core systems of record.

Advantages (and some potential pitfalls) of a combined IBM/Red Hat

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