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IBM goes deep into SMB territory

IBM appears fixated on ditching the perception that it's for big businesses only, and proving it can address the demands of the midmarket.

No one can say IBM isn't determined to shake its big-business-only image. Big Blue wants to be known as a kinder and gentler IBM to the throngs of midmarket companies desperate for new technology that will help them grow, so it has taken another leap (although not a big leap) in that direction.

Were trying to change the perception that we're not relevant to this market.
Michele Grieshaber
director channel strategy and SMB marketingIBM
The company announced on Friday new resources to help midsized customers more effectively manage the quality of their software and network infrastructures.

The products and services themselves are hardly significant compared with what they say about IBM's resolve to come from behind and overpower Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. in this market.

"IBM is not known as a small-business vendor. Dell and HP have a deeper presence in that market," said analyst Charles King, president and principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif.

The products

As it further strengthens its relationship with partners, specifically developers and resellers, IBM announced Friday the IBM Rational Build Forge Express Edition -- the company's first software delivery technology specifically developed, priced and marketed to meet the IBM Express criteria for SMBs. According to the company, the introduction of Rational Build Forge Express Edition, in conjunction with its Rational software delivery platform, provides a software delivery process management option that lets SMBs standardize and automate end-to-end software release processes and better govern compliance implementation.

The other product, specifically aimed at IT managers at midsized companies, is IBM Tivoli Network Manager IP Entry Edition, a new network management product that provides customers with accurate, real-time visibility of their network infrastructures. Developed and priced for midmarket businesses and service providers, it's designed to help organizations visualize and understand the layout of networks in their environments, allowing them to scale and grow as market demands dictate.

The pitch

King contends that this "drumbeat of major announcements" is likely the result of a statement Sam Palmisano made earlier this year: The IBM CEO predicted that the company's SMB unit could become its largest sector in the next five years. This year alone, IBM strengthened its SMB sales force by more than 1,000, launched a $200 million global SMB marketing effort, added several thousand new SMB business partners, and developed a powerful mix of new solutions. Upshot: IBM will be a major presence in the midmarket.

"On one level, it's marketing verbiage," King said. "And maybe striking fear into HP and Dell and putting hope into beleaguered IT everywhere."

On the flip side is the message IBM wants SMBs to hear loud and clear: If you want it, we got it.

"We're trying to change the perception that we're not relevant to this market," said Michele Grieshaber, director of channel strategy and SMB marketing at IBM.

According to Grieshaber, Friday's announcement is part of on ongoing campaign to take the "message to the marketplace" with a comprehensive program for marketing and aligning products and services to the midmarket, which IBM defines as 1,000 employees or less.

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"We want to make sure we're addressing the midmarket -- with the language that we use -- and how it relates to their needs," she said. Grieshaber stressed the challenges IBM faced as it moved forward to address the "pain points" in that market. But, she added, the company was determined to "demonstrate that we have solutions that can grow with their business."

"We take advantage of some of that technology and make it consumable for the midmarket -- [in terms of] price point and package," she said.

The bigger challenge, Grieshaber said, is forging relationships with the "100-person company -- and really having the reach into those companies." She added that IBM works in tandem with direct resellers and other partners as they service that space. "We're pushing out the message that says, 'Let us talk to you in terms that resonate. We have solutions that directly address that.'"

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director

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