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Big Blue Launches New 'e-Solutions' for SMBs

NEW YORK -- IBM Corp., the company that coined the term e-Business in 1997, has set its sights on selling middleware to a large, and largely untapped, market segment: small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The company Tuesday unveiled a suite of eight platform-agnostic modular solutions, part of the Start Now family, geared at helping SMBs rapidly transform their businesses into e-businesses.

"The middleware really supplies the basic functions that make your business an e-business," said Mark Hanny, vice president, Software Channel Marketing, IBM. The new Start Now solutions range from transaction systems to data management, collaboration and knowledge management and security.

"The key to all of this is to be able to do integration of your existing applications and extend those applications to the Web," Hanny said.

To get the solutions to the SMB market, IBM is relying entirely on its IBM Business Partners.

"Small- and medium-sized businesses want to buy from someone within a 100 mile radius," Hanny said.

Marc Lautenbach, general manager of Big Blue's SMB unit, added, "This is not a market that anyone company can get to by themselves...there are tens of millions of enterprises around the world that you're trying to reach. Business Partners are absolutely integral."

The business partners are trained and qualified by IBM, and can provide IBM software, suggested IBM e-Servers and services. The Start Now Solutions program also includes a complete marketing and enablement program that provides business partners with a recommendation of software and hardware configurations, instructions for proposing, implementing and extending a complete solution, tested implementation scenarios, ISV tools and financing options.

And the Start Now Solutions are highly scalable, providing a foundation that will allow SMBs to grow into large enterprises without having to scrap their infrastructure.

"I looked for the most scaleable middleware that could support thousands of simultaneous users of database and streaming media functions," said Bruce Camber, executive producer and founder of Small Business School, a weekly TV show that airs on PBS-member stations. "I compared IBM with Cold Fusion, COM+, and even a few custom-tailored systems. But IBM's Start Now e-commerce Solutions addressed my scalability concerns and gave me an affordable entry point that the other products couldn't."

The market

"Mid-market customers are extremely important to IBM," Hanny said.

Hanny noted that there are 100 million SMBs worldwide today, with an aggregate IT expenditure topping $50 billion this year. And the market has considerable headroom for growth -- Lautenbach said less than 20 percent of SMBs currently have commerce enabled applications. Analysts predict that number will grow to 70 percent by 2003.

"IBM's Start Now Solutions will give SMB customers a fast, inexpensive and scalable solution designed to fuel the e-business adoption curve and drive faster ROI," Hanny said. "Start Now is a set of solutions and a supporting program designed for IBM Business Partners by IBM Business Partners, and includes time-tested recommendations of hardware and software, partner services and proven implementation scenarios."

IBM is banking that the new Start Now solutions will enable SMBs to overcome the obstacles that have until now kept them from "e-enabling" their businesses.

Lautenbach explained that there are two primary inhibitors to the adoption of e-business among SMBs: a lack of the necessary skills, and an inability to point to a return on investments (ROI).

But Big Blue believes these eight solutions will change all that.

"These eight solutions are dead-center where the market is," Lautenbach said.

To get around the skills shortage, the solutions are delivered entirely through IBM's Business Partners, giving each customer access to personalized support, and most importantly, the training necessary to mitigate the skills shortage.

As for ROI, the solutions start at $15,000 and range as high as $55,000 in price, and IBM boasts that implementation and deployment can be very rapid.

"These solutions can be implemented and deployed very, very quickly -- in some cases, 60 days," Lautenbach said.

The solutions

The solutions include:

  • Start Now Infrastructure Solutions -- provides open, standard interfaces and protocols that allow systems to interoperate and enables users to manage databases and storage, develop Internet and Intranet presence, set up log on and registration procedures for customers and suppliers to share information and data online. The Infrastructure Solutios are based on IBM DB2 Universal Database, IBM WebSphere e-infrastructure software, Lotus Domino Application Server R5, Lotus iNotes Client and Lotus Sametime;
  • Start Now e-commerce Solutions -- allows customers to browse catalogs, fill electronic shopping carts, make secure purchases and specify delivery instructions. Buyers can get assistance in real-time and purchase in their own languages and currencies. IBM WebSphere Commerce Suite, V5 is the enabling technology;
  • Start Now Customer Relationship Management Solutions -- focuses on how customers interact with business through multiple channels such as the online store front, direct mail, the call center and the service center. It provides a blueprint for lowering the walls between the marketing, sales and service disciplines, connecting them through Web-enabled applications. The solutions are based on Lotus Application Server R5, Lotus iNotes Client, Lotus Sametime and Relavis eBusinessStreams;
  • Start Now Business Intelligence Solutions -- helps customers analyze business data collected in order to build a complete profile of customers and demographic information. The solutions are based on IBM DB2 Universal Database V7, IBM DB2 Warehouse Manager V7, IBM Query Management Facility and DB2 OLAP Starter Kit;
  • Start Now Collaboration Solutions -- enables real-time sharing, teaming and interaction, giving team members the ability to communicate online with customers, provide answers to questions, offer assistance, process order forms, develop and negotiate contracts online and resolve other problems that occur. The solutions are based on Lotus Sametime Server V2, Lotus QuickPlace V2 and Lotus Domino Application Server R5;
  • Start Now Host Integration Solutions -- extends existing legacy host applications and data to the Internet and enables new e-business applications. The solutions are based on IBM Host Access Package V1 and IBM WebSphere Host Publisher V2;
  • Start Now Website Management Solutions -- provides the tools to manage and optimize Web sites by identifying exposures, increasing availability and delivering enhanced performance. The solution uses Tivoli Web Services Manager and Tivoli Storage Manager;
  • Start Now Content Management Solutions -- provides a Web-ready portfolio of integrated software for managing and distributing digital content. The solution is based on IBM Content Manager Entry Bundle V7 and Content Manager CommonStore for Domino V7.