IBM invests in the mid to small enterprise

Our observations from IBM’s General Business worldwide influencers conference leads us to believe that IBM is well positioned to make much more of a mark in the sub 1000 employee company space; having said that HP, Sun, Dell, Cisco et al are not likely to let IBM take the initiative without a fight.

Commonly perceived as the trusted supplier to large enterprises, IBM’s keen to augment their ‘corporate’ perception and present a more coordinated and ‘easy to deal with’ value based organisation to midsized and smaller companies.

With most (if not all) of their ‘General Business’ leveraged or sold by or though partners, significant focus is on developing and extending the coverage and competence of the existing partner community, and indeed recruiting new partners to deliver increased competence or coverage as required. An intent to develop more ‘vertically focused’ channels in support, to a large extent, of their Smarter Planet vision should help to deliver partner value and differentiation in the eyes of the customers and less potential for conflict in an expanding channel.

They’re also making significant investments in growth economies. With predominantly (very) small business partner ecosystems as trademarks of these countries, IBM’s small and mid market activities appear to be growing at a pace following the recent appointment of David Stokes who drove significant UK mid market growth in recent times (pre-credit crunch).

To be fair to IBM, they acknowledge that there are many challenges. Amongst these is to develop a more channel focused view within their own organisation and new flexible, responsive environments in which to cultivate new and existing partners. Much of the success in this area will be dependent on the skills and importantly, behavioural change of their people; and not just those engaged in the small and mid markets.

Partners like the personal touch. They’ve probably had close relationships for many years from existing suppliers. Unfortunately, as many including IBM have found, this personal touch is difficult to emulate through multiple tiers of supply and distribution. Some interesting initiatives in partner support, demand generation and more focus on ‘business development’ as opposed to logistics management should provide good value to partners; provided, that is, that the new infrastructure doesn’t become in itself the inhibitor to simple, productive, accommodating and transparent relationships.

On a final note, one of IBM’s greatest assets is their breadth of offerings. Cited as an area of frustration as well as opportunity, the commonality (read communication) amongst brands and business units is still a work in progress. Leveraging their broad software portfolio and creating more collaborative services relationships should offer additional value-add to partners’ portfolios and prove interesting areas for partner investment, providing, of course, the route to assimilation or compliance is not littered with unnecessary (from a partners point of view) overhead or administration.