IBM Watson Ecosystem is a partner program for companies and startups to leverage IBM Watson services. It is also a community, semi accelerator and VC. Monies, where I am a co-founder is a part of the IBM Watson Ecosystem.
Watson Ecosystem is the first partner program I have seen out of the Big Blue that puts both IBM and the partner in the same boat. It is a win-win situation. This for several reasons, I will go deeper into each and every one of them, but a quick list looks like this:
- Pure revenue share. If we succeed IBM succeed.
- Legal Agreements that are clear with deliverables defined. Never seen such good and straight forward agreements from IBM before.
- Dedicated team, both technical and business from the Watson team that really helps and are dedicated especially to you.
- A clear process on how to work.
- Free access to Watson services and parts of Bluemix.
- Potential Joint marketing and PR activities.
- Potential financial injection from the Venture Capital arm of Watson (a $100M fund currently)
- Potential access to client and the IBM sales-force.
How to become an IBM Watson Ecosystem Partner
This process is for me still a bit blurry. When I tried to submit the formal way with Monies, the site was out-of-order and did not accept any submissions. So I had to use other methods and found a way to get in the door and then I guess we followed the internal IBM process and evaluation with the result of us being approved to join the IBM Watson Ecosystem. The ordinary process does probably look something like this (we only shortcut #1):
- Submit your company on the “Join the Watson Ecossytem“-site.
- Get contacted by IBM for initial call
- Fill in the “Ecossytem Onboarding Partnership”-form (I think it was called Alignment Form when we did it). This docucument describes your business, state, funding, business model, products and how Watson is aimed to be used.
- Get Approval / Rejection
- If Approved join IBM Partnerworld as an ISV and sign the Watson Developer Agreement.
- Get an assigned Watson Solution Architect and a Watson Engagement Manager.
- Convert your Bluemix account to a Ecosystem Bluemix account and then start coding, no time to loose.
The pre-requisits and what it takes t be approved are also a bit blurry, but this screenshot might give you and indication at least.
How does the overall process look like when you are a part of the Watson Ecosystem?
In the Watson Ecosystem Community you have a dedicated dashboard for your progress and it is also possible to network in the community even though the activity is extremely low, which is too bad actually. There are some supporting documents, guidlines and presentations to help you out.
This is our current progress. Monies currently in the middle of our PoC / Prototype phase.
The deliverables are continously followed-up in weekly calls with your Watson Engagement Manager and your Watson Solution Architect. The team we have seems to be a great pair of Watson individuals.
How is it to be a part of the Watson Ecosystem?
Silly headline I know, but since there is not that much info available and not that many companies in the Ecosystem it might be of interest.
To be clear, Monies are currently in the middle of the process of building our first product so I do not have the entire picture yet.
How many companies are in the Watson Ecosystem? Numbers vary. I currently see numbers between 299 and 500. In Sweden it is only Monies and Ericsson and total in Europe 24, for Asia the total number is 11. It is hard to verify the exact numbers, but it is at least an indication. The wast majority of Ecosystem partner are in US. Also worth noting that large global companies like Accenture, Ogilvy / Mather and Softbank all are Ecosystem partners as well.
Is the Watson Ecossytem and IBM startup-friendly for real?
This one is hard to answer. The easy answer is both yes and no. On the surface and in the agreement, the process etc I would say they are startup friendly. In terms of documentations, forms and to some extent technology…they are the same ol IBM. Also when you work with the Watson team in NYC, it is smoother then usual, but it is still obvious that Watson is a part of the Big and very blue IBM. See next section for further details.
What can be improved?
To be clear, I really like the Ecosystem and by no means I want this section to drag this post into a negative spin, but without constructive suggestions on improvement I do not think this post would be taken serious anyway, so….
Lack of startup and entrepreneurial skills
I would say that the biggest disadvantage is that it seems to be too few individuals on the IBM Watson Ecosystem side (and Watson in general) that have actual experience from working with, or have prev built startups. This is a huge drawback. My suggestion would be to recruit heavily in this segment. I get the sense IBM is recruiting young (aka startup friendly people, but that does unfortunately not mean they have the recuired experience needed) externally and senior staff is recruited internally (the oclassic IBM person in suit and all). If this is a good strategy? I would say no. My simple suggestion is, recruit indivuduals that are entrepreneurs, have built startups prior, but see the potential in Watson and feel the urge to join and make a difference by helping others build really really cool things with Watson.
Regional and local presence / knowledge
Another big disadvantage is that it is very much a US play only at this stage. The knowledge and experience from other parts of the world seem to be limited. It would be great if people from the other regions would join and facilitate the Ecosystem partners from their regions. I still think they should be based out of NYC mainly, but local / regional knowledge is never to underestimated.
Watson Ecosystem vs Partner World
This will be a short section. The Ecossytem is nothing like PW. Most of the bad stuff is out and the good parts are still there. The Watson Ecosystem is a partner program on at least somewhat equal terms, I cannot say the same for being a Business Partner in PartnerWorld. Formally I think the Ecosystem is connected or is considered legally a subcategory to PartnerWorld or similar, just guessing. The IBM Watson Ecosystem is a huge step forward in terms of IBM Partner Programs. Keep it up!
What does it cost?
Simply put, it costs hard work and dedication. It also cost you some dependency on IBM, since Watson is an IBM technology that mainly lives on Bluemix. The program is free to join when approved and it does not cost you any money to be a part of the Ecosystem, this with one cavet though, which I have had a few not-so-happy conversations with IBM about. During 2015 they learnt that a some partners do not deliver after they have entered into Commercial Agreement, but still enjoys the benefits of being a part of the program and by that (after a Commercial Agreement is signed) can use IBM in branding and communication, this without bringing in any revenue to IBM. This IBM wanted to correct and during 2016 they have put a small (?!) fee in place if no revenue is generated after the Commercial Agreement is signed. This I can understand, I cannot say I fully agree with the result of the 2015 performance and the implications it has on the 2016 Ecosystem members, but all-in-all not a biggie I would say. The fee is also waived if revenue exists above the fee level.
Naturally IBM needs revenue from Watson and this is done via a 70/30 revenue-share (if a fully Watson dependent application) in your favor, so similar to Apple et al. Straight forward and good business model imho.
Watson Ecosystem is the best partner program IBM has to date. If IBM keeps focusing on IBM Watson as they do, the Watson Ecosystem will be a core companent in that success.
Photo Credit to Henrik Johansson and his photo “Landscape is changing” from Flickr.