The VAR Guy had the chance to sit down with Mark Hennessy, general manager, IBM Global Business Partners and Midmarket, to discuss IBM’s focus on the channel, business data analytics and the merging of software and hardware specializations. The VAR Guy sees IBM as bullish on all things, but is the channel equally psyched? Here’s the scoop on Hennessy’s channel outlook ...

First up, The VAR Guy asked Hennessy point blank: Business analytics have been hyped up a lot, but how fast can partners can actually take this and put it into practice? He was quick to answer: “A good barometer of partner interest is how many certifications they have. Around business analytics, there have been 27,000 certifications already. Partners have taken it up quickly ... [and are] serving all elements of the market from the SMB to the enterprise."

Hennessy also noted cloud services also have become increasingly popular with smaller partners looking to offer unique bundled packages for SMBs. But our resident blogger wanted to know exactly how many partners joined IBM in 2011 and how many more partners would be needed to continue the drive for IBM’s "analytical" focus, which IBM plans to expand through 2015. Hennessy declined to give a a figure, but said enabling channel partners with incentives and training on advanced technology continues to grow IBM's partner base. He stressed that IBM loves its partners, investing $2 billion in marketing, enablement and training alone this year.

At IBM PartnerWorld 2012, IBM also unleashed a new incentives program, the IBM Solution Accelerator, colloquially called the Blue On Blue partner program, which is a specialization that encourages partners to merge IBM hardware with IBM software to bring a complete package to customers. Our resident blogger asked: Does IBM want all its partners to specialize in this? “We’d love to have all partners take advantage of it. It’s also something distribution companies can play in,” Hennessy noted, explaining how partner-matching and high-level collaboration can make solutions blossom. “We have a new system in place to track hardware and software [sales] and we’ll take this data and analyze it and find out which partners are doing more [hardware] integration and combining it with software. [We also can] find partners who have been software-focused [who] would be good candidates for hardware components.” Data wrought form this program could also fuel partner innovation, illuminating areas where partners can drive more valuable solutions, he added. (Worth noting: The VAR Guy has heard independent whispers that the Blue on Blue program could spur a series of mergers and acquisitions between IBM partners.)

Hennessy also offered what trends he's discovered in speaking with IBM’s partners. “Partners want to deliver ... faster value to [their] customers. Partners are focusing on specific industries and selling solutions around it ... seeing [value in] integrated and optimized portfolios. IBM Partners are anxious to hear how hardware and software can be engineered together,” which according to Hennessy, was part of the reason behind the Blue on Blue program, and likewise, why partners are excited about it.

And to the future? Hennessy said IBM is looking to build deeper, more integrated systems that can take customer workloads and shrink them down to a single flexible solution. That idea, however abstract, seems to have "business analytics" written all over it. Hmmm. The VAR Guy thinks Hennessy has the right idea, but our resident blogger will keep vigil until the channel as a whole -- not just IBM -- jumps on the data analytics bandwagon.