Sammy Kinlaw delivered his first keynote as North American channel chief at Lenovo’s annual Accelerate partner conference in April 2015. That was 15 months after the Chinese hardware maker announced its intention to purchase IBM’s x86-based System X server line, six months after that transaction closed, and just weeks after Kinlaw stepped into his current position atop a sprawling partner organization with 30,000 members.
It was also six months after Kinlaw’s predecessor, Chris Frey, now vice president and general manager of Lenovo’s North American commercial business, launched a new initiative dubbed “One Lenovo” aimed at merging the company’s siloed PC and server businesses into a single, seamless whole. In his keynote, Kinlaw vowed to complete that mission, and less than one year later, he says, Lenovo has kept that promise. “We followed through and made good on those commitments,” Kinlaw states. “‘One Lenovo’ is real. It has been a success.”
Not that the process was quick or easy. For resellers, adding System X servers to Lenovo’s existing PC and ThinkServer product families represented a tantalizing opportunity to sell a wider array of devices to a broader range of customers. First, however, Lenovo would have to turn two partner programs and sales forces into one, with a single set of back-end sales and inventory management tools. “The IT infrastructure for that to happen is very complex,” Kinlaw observes. “It’s been a long road.”
Lenovo finally reached the end of that road this January, however, with the launch of a new, unified partner portal for everything the company makes. “It’s more effective, it’s faster, [and] it puts the emphasis on Lenovo for turning around pricing quickly,” Kinlaw says of the revamped portal. “It’s not a small thing, and it’s been a long time in the works.”
Partners On Board
So far, Lenovo partners seem to like the looks of both the portal specifically and the revised partner program more generally. “I’m fairly impressed with what they’ve done and how intuitive and simple they’ve kept it,” says Chris Pickard, COO of Xylotek Solutions Inc., an IT consultancy in Cambridge, Ontario, that’s been selling ThinkPads since before Lenovo bought that product line from IBM in 2004. “My experience has been pretty good so far.”
The same goes for Julius Turk, director of business development at Ace Computers, a custom system builder headquartered in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that resells Lenovo hardware alongside its own more specialized devices to customers looking for one-stop shopping. Though post-merger transitions always create a few headaches, he observes, Lenovo has kept them to a minimum. “I haven’t seen any major problems,” he says.
With One Lenovo now behind it, Kinlaw says, and new products steadily reaching market, Lenovo is positioned for a strong 2016. Those new offerings include hyperconverged infrastructure solutions combining Lenovo hardware with software from Nutanix Inc., of San Jose, Calif., and SimpliVity Corp., of Westborough, Mass., as well as a host of PCs and tablets.
“The timing for Skylake is perfect for us,” Kinlaw says, referring to Intel’s latest generation of Core processors. Lenovo rolled out multiple Skylake-based laptops and tablets at this year’s CES, including the new Yoga 900S convertible and several additions to its premium ThinkPad X1 portfolio.
“We’ve had some good success with the X1 at executive levels with our customers,” says Pickard, adding that between the new wave of Skylake PCs, the System X server line, and devices like Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M Series Tiny micro-desktops (which are selling well with Xylotek customers), Lenovo has an attractively extensive lineup of products. “It’s a fairly comprehensive offering that they’ve got now,” he says.
For his part, Kinlaw is just happy to have the challenges of building One Lenovo in his rearview mirror. “I’m not saying it’s a bed of roses. We still have to earn our dinner,” he notes. “But at this point I can be fired up in knowing that it’s behind me.”