To make its Thinkpad notebooks more accessible to small and medium-sized business users, IBM admits it will first have to overcome 70 years of "image baggage".
Kevin Clark, who manages the ThinkPad line for IBM corporately, acknowledges that Big Blue is widely seen as the monolith of the IT industry. "It's difficult to take a company with such a large identity and say to small businesses: 'We're here for you'." IBM categorises small firms as having fewer than 20 employees.
Purchase price is a good place to start and Clark contends that IBM has set out toward this goal with the ThinkPad 380 series, which is priced from $3500 to $5000 depending on screen technology. The lesser-featured 310, aimed at students and home users, was withdrawn from Australasia but IBM says more low-end offerings are in the pipeline.
"However, we're not interested in the lowest end of the market", says Clark. "If we get down to price points that are so low that we start to compromise quality and reliability then it can no longer bear the IBM logo. If we drop below a certain level, the machine ends up costing us more for service and support than we'd make out of selling it so low in the first place. There are likely to be some people selling older machines that are sub-$1000. We won't do that."
Service and support is another small-business concern IBM is moving to address and in all countries the company has been signing on additonal re-sellers. "We need more cohesion between Think-Pad and service and support. It's generally improving and is still uneven in certain pockets but we're investing and paying attention."
The power issue for notebooks is also important.
"Battery technology is not getting better in the way that Moore's Law dictates for processors. When I talk to component suppliers, it's on those two points — less cost per unit, and a unit with lower power consumption."