PartnerWorld II

LAS VEGAS — IBM will drive the bulk of its small and mid-size business sales through its channel, a move that has the attention of Canadian partners looking to increase their presence in the SMB market.

At PartnerWorld 2006, being held here this week, IBM unveiled a series of programs to address the rapidly expanding SMB market. Foremost are a series of IBM Express Advantage packages designed to help partners sell products and services to small businesses.

They are being positioned as short-term engagements, in the order of three to four weeks, and priced within the budget of most small businesses. The three major groups are: IT Strategy Assessment (technology transformation and planning), Web Effectiveness Assessment (Web site optimization), and Vulnerability Assessment (secure Web-based systems and security recommendations). Priced in the US$55,000 to US$65,000 range, they are available to American and Canadian partners starting this week.

“We need to have more and more things for our partners to sell,” said Jim Corgel, SMB manager for IBM Global Services. “There’s a growing number of partners who want to be involved from end to end. Our objective is that business partners be the primary route to the mid-market.”

IBM put SMBs on the agenda at last year’s PartnerWorld, making more business that was traditionally sold through its Global Services division available to the channel. It also introduced “Express” packages, starting with an e-mail remote managed service.

Given that Canada is a nation whose economic landscape is dominated by SMBs, IBM Canada may be slightly ahead of the game, said Gary Issacs, director of business partners for IBM Canada.

“I would say that we’ve had a longer focus on SMB than what you’ve been hearing at PartnerWorld because of the nature of the (Canadian) market,” he said. “We’ve always been focused on it.”

Issacs said IBM Canada has participated in the Express program since its inception. “We’ve had some programs that we’ve developed ourselves that you might think of as our version of SMB Express Advantage,” he added. “We try to take advantage of the Americas and global programs and to a certain extent tailor them in Canada. SMB has always been a huge focus.”

For example, IBM Canada built an X-series program exclusively for partners north of the border “because we think that product in particular needs to be very focused locally in the market.”

But IBM has historically been a tough sell to small business customers, said Dan Hinchey, president of Edmonton-based MicroAge Solutions. “They don’t have the structure to get down where we play or where we’re hoping their products will fit,” said Hinchey in the days leading up to the conference. “We love (IBM’s) loyalty and their dedication to partners is exemplary, but with a large company like that, can they really get down to the smaller customers, as much as they have all sorts of programs to try?”

The smallest of small businesses are unlikely to opt for IBM solutions, said Dan Mair director of e-business solutions for Markham, Ont.-based SilverBlaze Solutions Inc. They tend to look for cheaper vendor solutions or adopt open source.

SilverBlaze is an ISV that builds exclusively on IBM middleware. The company won an IBM Beacon Award this week for a CRM application it built for southern Ontario energy company PowerStream.

There are SMB opportunities for Big Blue’s Canadian partners, said Mair. “Our focus is SMB. Our products are designed for that pricepoint. IBM’s push into SMB . . . will play to our strong points. We’re happy any time they mention SMB.”

Mair said that WebSphere Express and Workplace Express packages are attractive to the mid-market, adding that his firm targets customers of 100-plus employees.

Other SMB-directed partner initiatives at PartnerWorld include mid-market packaging for Tivoli products (Storage Manager Express, Monitoring Manager Express and Provisioning Manager Express), and a promise that IBM will help drive service-oriented architecture (SOA) down-market.

IBM began to offer SOA programs last June, but this week announced an “SOA Speciality” to provide training, marketing and sales benefits for partners who want to get more involved.

SOA is still an unproven commodity for small business in Canada, said Mair. “I think SOA makes sense, but I think we have to evolve to that,” he said, adding that it’s a “wait and see” proposition for most Canadian SMBs.

“It’s a subject that not everyone understands as much as they should,” acknowledged Issacs.

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