IBM to open 40 more innovation centers

IBM plans to open 40 more Innovation Centers around the world this year, upping its annual investment in the centers to US$250 million.

IBM plans to open 40 more Innovation Centers around the world this year, upping its annual investment in the centers to US$250 million, the company said Monday.

The centers act as training, testing and support facilities for IBM's partners and customers.

Donn Atkins, general manager, IBM Global Business Partners, made the announcement at the company's PartnerWorld conference here which runs through Wednesday.

IBM is considering siting centers in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and the U.K. as well as unspecified countries in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In the U.S., likely locations for new centers include Arizona, Atlanta, California and North and South Carolina.

While some of the centers are operated by IBM, the bulk of the facilities are both owned and run by IBM's business partners and are known as Business Partner Innovation Centers (BPICs). There are now 100 IBM and partner centers in all, employing over 1,000 technical specialists, with the most recent facility being opened by IBM partner Champion Solutions Group in Florida, according to Atkins.

The centers give customers a chance to try out IBM technology and test specific hardware, software and services configurations. Particular focus areas include server, storage and software virtualization as well as server consolidation. A customer visit to a BPIC typically results in a sale 80 percent of the time, Atkins said.

One of IBM's key partners, however, questions whether BPICs are appropriate in every location.

"We have a BPIC, but I have mixed emotions about it," Richard Kearney, president and chief executive officer of Mainline Information Solutions Inc., said in an interview here.

With an annual revenue of around US$500 million, Mainline is an IBM hardware, storage and software partner catering mostly to small to midsize businesses (SMBs) in the U.S., with additional operations in Brazil, China and Hong Kong. The company opened its BPIC at its headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, in October of last year, showcasing IBM zSeries, pSeries, iSeries and xSeries servers as well as the vendor's storage offerings.

"It's nice to have the equipment in the BPIC, but our strategy is much more face-to-face and touchy-feely at the customers' premises," Kearney said. "We're wondering if the BPIC is really useful."

The statistic quoted by IBM and other business partners that 80 percent of customers who use a BPIC end up buying the products displayed there is something of a skewed result, he added. Customers who've visited a BPIC already have a high propensity to buy, according to Kearney.

Mainline can provide most of a BPIC's functionality in terms of simulating a customer's current or future IT systems remotely, Kearney said.

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