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The leader of the SMB mobility pack

In the market to supply small and midsized businesses with mobile technology, IBM is head and shoulders above the competition, according to a new report from Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc. The study found that Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft are two heavy hitters that certainly have the resources to compete. In this interview, Warren Wilson, a Summit practice director who wrote the report, explained the SMB landscape for mobile offerings.

When it comes to selling mobile offerings to SMBs, where specifically do HP and Microsoft lag behind IBM?

Warren Wilson
Warren Wilson
They both have considerable assets they could bring to bear in mobile solutions for SMBs, but they have not been as aggressive as IBM. That doesn't mean they won't catch up, but IBM has taken a considerable lead.

In Microsoft's case, it is a matter of building a kind of mobile sales and marketing team at some point. Then it will be relatively easy to differentiate into specialty teams so they can focus on companies large and small.

HP's case is a little bit more baffling because they have been talking for some time about putting the emphasis on mobile, but don't seem to have followed through. That is not easily explained, but it does seem like a matter of execution rather than intent. The opportunity is there, and they can bring a lot to bear on it. But execution has been lacking. [For example,] HP demonstrated a good understanding of the market [when it launched its SMB-focused Smart Office last year], but the program appears to have gone nowhere, except off the radar. In light of these shortcomings, can an SMB still get a quality offering from HP or Microsoft?
To the extent that IBM has specifically tailored SMB solutions, it would be somewhat easier to identify and deploy an IBM solution. I imagine that [HP and Microsoft] could develop something similar. You mentioned in your report that HP did not respond to a briefing request. Could this mean that it tried to target SMBs with mobile devices and is no longer interested in the market?
No, they have lots of assets in place: a strong lineup of notebook computers [and] their PDA [personal digital assistant] line with the Compaq acquisition. They are strong in the [telecom] market and have a very strong presence in SMBs overall. But these are the kinds of assets that they should be able to leverage with mobile and wireless solutions. It has been surprising to me that they have not been more aggressive into pushing into the market. Are smaller vendors, which may have been drowned out by IBM, HP and Microsoft, providing mobile technology to SMBs?
Very much so. Sybase's iAnywhere is one good example, with very strong mobile capabilities. There are a lot of niche players in a lot of different areas.

[Editor's Note: The Summit report also lists Air2Web Inc., Avaya Inc., Interlink Networks Inc., Symbol Technologies Inc. and Trapeze Networks Inc. as vendors that are bringing innovation to the wireless and mobile SMB market.] It can be intimidating for an SMB to deal with these extremely large vendors. What advice can you offer to an SMB that has started to look for a provider?

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Find some good Web resources on mobile computing for SMBs

Get some advice on securing mobile technologies

Well, the generic advice would be to focus as much as possible on securing the problem you want to solve. Identify a solution that you can determine in advance, specifically on what the benefits will be and what the ROI [return on investment] will be. In other words, don't wallow around in vague solutions.

At the same time, make sure the mobile solution that you develop fits within an overall long-term IT strategy. For example, a lot of companies are in the early stages of evaluating utility computing solutions and dynamic computing -- like IBM's OnDemand. That whole idea of dynamic computing is varied and complex, and to embrace it fully requires long-term architecture by the business. It is not something you can accomplish all at once. So it is important to choose mobile solutions that will fit with the overall strategy, so you are not buying something that ends up trapping you in an area over time. Do have a prediction for six to 12 months from now? What will the market look like for SMBs desiring mobile solutions?
I think some consolidation is due, especially as large vendors look to build mobile and wireless into their overall strategies and as smaller vendors realize more and more customers want integrate completely rather than with product bundles. As they do that, it will be important to identify vendors whose dynamic computing platforms they think have most legs.

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