IBM Smart Business Moves into Italy, Solutions List Grows in U.S. and India
November 16, 2009 Dan Burger
Back in the day, IBM blew a pretty loud trumpet touting its mastery of technology. These days, the IBM trumpet plays a different song. It no longer touts technology. IBM prefers to sell business solutions. Take, for instance, its Smart Business program that focuses on mid-market customers that need to find, purchase, deploy, and maintain a business computing solution that is application oriented and keeps things as simple as possible. If it sounds like re-inventing the AS/400, it is.
It’s also a whole lot more. The keeping things simple part of Smart Business brings in a services element relating to the capability to remotely monitor and tune applications and systems software, removing that monkey from the customers’ backs. It’s called Application Integrator, which is a common set of APIs and a single framework that provides automated support for applications running on a Smart Cube. It will get a lot more attention than the operating system or the hardware, but the emphasis will remain on applications.
Last week, Chip McClelland, IBM’s senior marketing manager for Smart Business, spoke with IT Jungle. He was still euphoric over the Smart Business rollout in Italy at the end of October. That introduction followed a similar Smart Business debut in the United States in May, which followed the initial launch in India in November 2008.
IBM is hoping the Smart Business approach will get Big Blue closer to mid-market customers. McClelland describes these organizations as favoring solutions and working relationships that are specific to their country and industry.
“We are launching in a country context, so that we can have the right portfolio of solutions,” he says. “We are doing it with the channel, so the total solution can be sold to the customer–not only the ISV solution, but also the Smart Cube that it runs on, and all the services and support that comes with Smart Business.”
As this newsletter has previously described in great detail, the Smart Cubes are server appliances based on the Power Systems-i or X64-Linux platforms.
“When we first went out the door [the Smart Business launch in 2008], we probably put too much emphasis on the Smart Cube–the wonders of our technologies,” McClelland says.” Our customers did not react to that approach all that well. It’s not that they didn’t like it; they just didn’t know what to do with it.”
The launch in Italy, compared to the launch in India, is dramatically different, McClelland says, because of the way Smart Business is presented.
“When we re-oriented our marketing and communications to be focused on the ISV solution and the benefits that solution could drive for a specific mid-market customer’s business and took our product and technology and put it in the background, we saw a dramatic improvement in response to our marketing and communications,” he says.
McClelland has four years of iSeries experience on his resume. When he talks about putting solutions first, he seems to have learned his lessons well. He’s optimistic that the IBM i can reclaim some of the mid-market glory that the AS/400 once claimed.
“When you look at what the application-centric approach did for the AS/400, iSeries, and System i, and you bring the attributes into the context of a solution, this allows the System i-based solution to be presented in a way that delivers the attributes of System i, the stability, security, and scalability within the context of the solution. You don’t get into the hardware and the operating system. I think that’s a good thing for System i,” he says.
The Smart i introduction in Italy provides an excellent opportunity to prove that. The Italian market is stocked with mid-size companies and the AS/400, iSeries, and System i boxes have a well-earned reputation in the country for both excellence and simplicity. There are plenty of reasons to believe Italy will be a great place to sell i-based business solutions. And, as a matter of fact, IBM is going into this market armed only with i-based solutions.
The solution portfolio in Italy, at this time, is focused on–and limited to–five vertical industry options based on ACG software. ACG is the leading OS/400-based ERP package in the country.
In the U.S. and India, the application portfolio includes both i-based Power or Linux-based X64 offerings. You won’t find IBM using the term i-based, however. The preferred lingo is Power-based, even though it is strictly i. Smart Business on Linux is for organizations that favor Windows-based applications but who will accept an appliance implementation of Linux on an X64 server.
Aside from the promising Italian market where things are just under way, the Indian and U.S. markets are still in the “building up speed” phase. McClelland says there has been “strong and positive reaction” to Smart Business from customers, partners, and ISVs, but backing that up with evidence is hard to come by. McClelland claims the goal for lead generation efforts in India is being surpassed by four times the anticipated response.
He refers to business as “ramping up” and describes mid-market businesses as accustom to taking their time making decisions. Sales cycles are six to nine months before any implementations start coming out of the pipeline.
“We bring a solution into the Smart Market. We work with the ISV to do demand generation and marketing activities that generate the pipeline of opportunities that then takes some time to progress and close,” he says. “The entire process involves working with an ISV to get them onboard, enabling them, listing them on the Smart Market, generating opportunities, progressing opportunities, closing and implementing. We are seeing some of the firs opportunities coming out of the pipeline. Implementations are going live at customer sites.”
The Smart Business solutions portfolio for the U.S. market has grown to more than 100 offerings, McClelland reports. However, the term “offerings” does not equate with applications or ISVs. Some solutions are listed more than once because they can have unique deployments depending on individual industries.
There are 66 offerings listed for Smart Business in India. That list includes a mix of Indian ISVs along with along with U.S.-based ISVs.
IBM is not talking yet of the next Smart Business market launch.