Telling partners at its annual Partner Leadership Forum that an ecosystem approach is needed to harness the US$500 billion (NZ$639 billion) SMB opportunity, IBM made a number of announcements focusing on building that ecosystem and helping partners sell into the space.
"We strongly believe this needs a team approach that's why we're announcing it at partner world," said Erich Clementi, general manager of the business systems division in the IBM systems and technology group. The vision is for a Web 2.0 marketplace, dubbed Global Application Marketplace, where clients, and partners, shop for and find systems solutions from IBM and from other partners, deploy them in an integrated computing environment, and manage them easily and intuitively once deployed.
The umbrella for the initiative is the Blue Business Platform and a key part of the platform will be the Application Integration Toolkit, a set of open standard interfaces to facilitate easier and more consistent installation of new applications, systems management and online services. Clementi likens it to SOA for the mid-market.
"This is a very open approach and we invite our business partners to join us," said Clementi. "It's a tremendous opportunity, you're virtually in global reach."
IBM's first product offering to come out of the Blue Business Platform is IBM Lotus Foundations, an appliance delivered as an on-premise software server. Aimed at businesses of 500 seats or less and delivered primarily through the channel, the solution is designed to deploy out of the box in less than 30 minutes. It runs on Linux and encompasses everything an SMB would need from an IT perspective, including email and collaboration with Lotus Notes and Domino, file management, directory services, back-up and recovery, firewall, anti-virus, anti-spam and the Lotus Symphony office suite.
"We've completely masked all the administration complexity usually associated with these systems so its transparent to the SMB," said Sean Poulley, vice-president of online collaboration services on the IBM software group. "What we've also done is completely masked Linux from the end user, and if you don't think that's possible you've never used TiVo."
With partners concerned about the speed of attracting new customers and the cost of maintaining them, Poulley said the solution's easy configuration and deployment will appeal to the channel. He added it can also serve as a platform to add other business applications and functionalities from channel partners and ISVs.
"You're not sending people on support calls on a per-hour basis, but with the remote management capabilities you can still have that support contract but manage many more customers with the same staff," added Poulley. "Partners can be out serving new business leads instead of having to be on the bad end of fixing our problems."
In developing Lotus Foundations, IBM worked with Totvs, a solution provider based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Claudio Bessa, chief marketing and alliances officer with Totvs, said he believes the initiative meshes well with what Totvs is already doing in the SMB space, working with companies that don't generally have a CIO and rely on the channel for guidance.
"It's a platform we can use to provide a one-stop solution, particularly for the SMB market," said Bessa. "As much as we can pack solutions and services to take out customers it makes life easier, and that's the direction we're working in with IBM."
To succeed in the SMB partners need to sell solutions said Steve Solazzo, general manager of IBM general business. He adds IBM sees the segment's pain-points centering around business model innovation and operational efficiency, as well as security and reliability.
"They have a limited ability to integrate so they don't like to buy piece products, they like to buy solutions," said Solazzo.
IBM has developed a new dedicated focus on the mid-market, with dedicated staff and dedicated offerings, said Solazzo, adding partners are IBM's primary route to market in the SMB.
"We're spending about US$150 million to get our messages out to these customers, so they understand we're interested and that we have solutions for them," he said.