More than a Name Change: IBM Rebrands LotusLive as IBM SmartCloud for Social Business

Attending Lotusphere (or any other big vendor event) is kind of like getting soaked with a fire hose. So instead of providing overall highlights (here’s a 60-second video that does this quite well, FYI), I’m dialing the nozzle to focus on LotusLive news at Lotusphere 2012, and my perspective on it relative to the SMB market.

New Style

Perhaps the news that garnered the most attention is that IBM is renaming its cloud-based LotusLive collaboration suite to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. The move is designed to give the offering, which provides business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail and calendaring, some new cachet in the non-Lotus market. IBM is putting Smart Cloud for Social Business squarely under IBM’s SmartCloud umbrella. By making all of its cloud offerings available in one place, IBM intends to make it for clients and partners to find and use it’s open-standards based cloud services .

Fortunately, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business (which is 34 characters, or 25% of a tweet long!) is the category name for IBM’s cloud-based social solution family. IBM will offer more succinctly branded offerings, such as SmartCloud Engage, which replaces LotusLive Engage, and ala carte services such as SmartCloud Connections.

IBM also plans to debut a dramatically simplified web site to make it easier for visitors to zero in on the most relevant solutions and information.

More Substance

IBM’s announcements in this area went beyond style to also include significant substance, for instance;

  • IBM Docs, formerly IBM LotusLive Symphony, will be included in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. Currently in public beta with availability planned for later this year, IBM Docs is akin to Google Docs. The cloud-based service enables people inside and outside an organization’s firewall, to simultaneously collaborate on word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. Users can store, co-edit and share documents in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.
  • Social Business Toolkit for LotusLive, available now, which enables customers and business partners to integrate custom applications with LotusLive–now SmartCloud for Social Business–services. Using OpenSocial APIs, developers can access profile contacts, meetings, files and communities data.  Companies can add unique custom actions to their SmartCloud for Social Business experience, and deliver everything via a unified user interface that leverages IBM standards-based extension points, authentication and encryption APIs. And, customers will only need to pay one bill for all of their Smart Cloud for Social Business services.
  • An updated Partner Online Guided Selling Tool, a dashboard to help resellers and distributors create and manage sales quotes and orders is slated for availability in the first quarter on 2012.  It will give resellers and distributors an automated collaborative tool to build quotes, place special bids, place orders, track service activation, manage customer billing, etc. to create customer-ready sales quotes for cloud services.  For instance, using the tool, partners will be able to calculate ROI, meter usage, create flexible term lengths, or ramp up customers to the full offering on a predetermined schedule.
  • New partner incentives. For instance, partners can get at 15% to 20% boost when they get authorized for and sell social business solutions, including IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business, under IBM’s Software Value Initiative (SVI) program. IBM is also giving partners that sell small deals and/or cloud –under $50,000 an additional incentive of up to 20%.
  • A new click to buy button so customers can buy IBM Smart Cloud for Social business direct on IBM’s web site.

Perspective

First, let’s look at the style front:

Lotus Notes, the on-premise ancestor of LotusLive, dominated the email and collaboration market back in the day. But competition from the likes of Microsoft to Google have chipped away at the original Lotus franchise over the years. Even when IBM Lotus out-innovated rivals in this space (for example, with IBM aka Lotus Connections), the perception of Lotus as being dated was hard to shake in the non-Lotus market.

This shift away from the Lotus brand also underscores a cultural shift that has been underway for at least a couple of years–and evidenced by the integration of Lotusphere and IBM Connect conferences. Lotus and collaboration are still a solid, underlying foundation, but social capabilities that help businesses extend beyond internal collaboration and into business workflow are the new mantra–and one more likely to appeal to a new generation of business decision makers.

Meanwhile, the IBM brand has continued to rank as one of the strongest brands in the world. Even as it enters its 101st year, Big Blue continues to buff and polish its brand with a seemingly endless appetite for innovation–as evidenced recently by Watson, atom size chips, not to mention selling 1,000+ patents to Google.

The net is that while the rebranding may cause some hiccups in the short-term as people acclimate to it, it makes sense over the long haul. And, who can argue with a simpler, easier to navigate web site?!

Moving on to substance:

Although IBM is very late to the game with click to buy capabilities, and isn’t the first to market with real-time document collaboration, the market is still young–with plenty of headroom. And, as privacy and security practices from other players come under increasing scrutiny, IBM’s measures to build corporate-strength security and privacy measures into SmartCloud for Social Business should give it an edge among organizations that place a premium on these areas.

However, my take is that IBM Docs needs to offer some compelling differentiation vs. the competition to make heads turn. In addition, IBM must go further than a 60-day trial and new click to buy capabilities to smooth the adoption and buying process. To its credit, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business does let companies provide free guest accounts to people outside their organizations. But I think it should take even more friction out of the process to boost viral adoption among SMBs–and compete more effectively with the likes of Google Apps. To that end, IBM should offer SmartCloud for Social Business free to a limited number of users in an organization.

IBM’s new partner programs and incentives are spot on, underscoring its commitment its partners, and respect for the role its partners play, particularly in the SMB market.  Just as important, the roster of SmartCloud for Social Business partners has been growing steadily, with a focus on developer partners that add significant value by integrating with the solution I spoke with representatives from both Silanis and SugarCRM, who indicated strong customer growth for their integrated offerings. With the Social Business Toolkit, IBM makes it easier for developers to integrate with SmartCloud for Social Business and provide their joint customers with a unified, collaborative business process experience.

Many SMBs take a fairly ad hoc approach to collaboration and social business. But SMB Group’s 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study and 2011 SMB Social Business Study show that SMBs that take a more strategic approach in these areas not only tend to invest more in relevant solutions, but are also more likely to anticipate revenue growth. To attract more of the types of partners that it needs to more deeply penetrate the SMB market, IBM needs to both educate SMBs about the business benefits a strategic social business approach. It also must help partners identify the more strategic sector of the SMB market that is likely to have more interest in IBM.

Overall, I believe that IBM is moving in the right direction, both in terms of style and substance. If it can create some strong brand awareness, take a bit more of the friction of the user consideration and adoption process, and fuel SMBs’ understanding of how collaboration and social business impact business results, it should make good headway in this market.

Closing the Business Intelligence Gap for Small Businesses

Most small and medium businesses (SMBs) can relate to Albert Einstein’s famous quote that  “Information is not knowledge.”  Many SMBs have plenty of data, but find it challenging to get the insights from it that they need to run their businesses more effectively and efficiently.

Businesses have always needed the ability to track and measure critical success metrics in a quantifiable way. The problem is that when there’s too much information, people find it difficult to fully comprehend it and make decisions. In fact, more than one-quarter of SMBs in our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study indicated that “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top technology challenge.

And the problem is growing: Scientists report that more than1.2 zettabytes of digital information were created in 2010. What’s a zettabyte, you may wonder? (I know I did.) A zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes–yes, that’s 21 zeroes! Online video, social networking sites, digital photography, and smart phone data are all contributing to the data pile-up. If that’s not enough to make your head spin, researchers also predict that the annual rate at which we collectively produce data will soar 44 times over the next decade.

The Gap Between BI Haves and Have-nots

Business intelligence and analytics solutions are designed to help make sense of all of this information. However, many SMBs often view these solutions as too complex and/or expensive. And companies without an accurate, consistent and accessible data source face the additional challenge of aggregating and rationalizing data from different sources.

SMB Group surveys reveal that the smaller the company, the less likely they are to use or plan to use BI solutions (Figure 1).  Our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study showed that while 33% of midsize businesses currently use and 28% plan to use BI solutions, among small businesses, just 16% currently use and 16 % plan to use BI solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Business Intelligence Solutions

Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study

The danger is that relying on hunches and intuition alone can put you at risk of missing trends and market opportunities or spotting potential problems–all of which can hurt business performance.

Some of the warning signs that your company’s growth may be hampered due to an inadequate ability to analyze data are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Warning Signs That Your Company Has a Data Analysis Problem

Source: SMB Group

Closing the Gap

Adding a BI solution on top of disparate, inconsistent and unreliable data is like putting lipstick on a pig.  So you need to start by establishing a core foundation of common, trustworthy and accessible data that’s shared across core business applications and processes. If you already run your business with an integrated business solution that pulls everything together into “one version of the truth”, you’ve already fulfilled this requirement. If not, you’ll want to integrate or upgrade the core solutions that your business relies on to ensure that you have a consistent and unified data source.

With this foundation in place, BI tools, dashboards and reports can help you to zero in on the insights you need to move your business ahead. The good news for SMBs is that several vendors now provide BI solutions tailored to meet SMB requirements and budget constraints. The bad news is that it can be difficult to figure out which one will be the best fit for your business.

While there is no “one-size fits all” solution that will be right for all companies, you can start by determining the core metrics that your business needs to measure. Many of these are likely to be areas that you need to measure and track long-term. Depending on the type of business you’re in, these could include things such as:

  • The percentage of income you derive from repeat customers vs. new customers
  • Times for order to ship, ship to invoice and receivables overdue
  • Time to respond to and close customer service calls
  • Procurement and spending analysis
  • Employee turnover rate

Given the pace of change in your industry, your business goals and the overall economy, you’ll probably want to make additions and adjustments over time as well, so look for a BI solution that can adapt to your needs as they change.

Figure 3 provides a checklist of additional questions to ask as a starting point to evaluate different BI solutions.

Figure 3: Key Considerations When Evaluating BI Solutions

Source: SMB Group

Getting the insights you need from a rising avalanche of information isn’t easy–but it is a critical business success factor. With the right BI tools in place, you can harness the data you have to get the wisdom you need to grow your business and stay ahead of the competition.

 

Slideshow: Highlights SMB Group 2011 Social Business Study

We will be launching a new version of our SMB Social Business Study this spring. In the meantime, we wanted to share some of the highlights from the 2011 study for the small business segment (1-99 employees) to whet your appetite for the 2012 edition!

The 2012 Social Business and Collaboration Study will refresh the 2011 version. It will zero in on how SMB social business trends, and compare 2012 trends to 2011. Sponsorship opportunities are available–please let us know if you’re interested!

Meanwhile, enjoy.

View more presentations from SMB Group

Cisco OnPlus: IT Infrastructure Advisory and Management Services Solution For Small Businesses

–by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

Last month, Cisco introduced a new IT Infrastructure advisory and management service solution designed for VARs to provide to small businesses with less than 100 employees. Delivered via Cisco’s value-added reseller (VAR) channel, Cisco OnPlus enables VARs to offload the mundane, time-consuming tasks of managing a network environment from small businesses, and provide them with higher value advisory services.  In addition to monitoring and managing network infrastructure devices, such as switches, wireless access points and routers, OnPlus also monitors devices that are connected to the network (including smartphones and tablets).  VARs can deploy a small OnPlus Network Agent appliance at the customer site, and remotely monitor and manage it through the cloud via a secure web portal or mobile application.

Perspective

 Cisco’s OnPlus IT infrastructure advisory and management service solution is designed to meet the needs of small businesses. SMB Group’s 2011 SMB Routes to Market study indicates that small businesses’ top technology related challenges include: Gaining ‘peace of mind’ that IT is under control (40%); containing IT costs (38%); finding/hiring qualified IT staff(35%); upgrading IT infrastructure(34%); protecting business from IT related failures(32%); and getting more done with fewer/flat IT resources (26%). As illustrated in Figure 1, Cisco’s OnPlus with Assess, Manage, Advise, Maintain features helps directly address several of these technology challenges.

Figure 1: Cisco OnPlus – Comprehensive IT Infrastructure Management for Small Businesses

Source: SMB Group, January 2012

Several IT infrastructure monitoring and management solutions are available for small and medium businesses (SMBs) ,  but they are often cost-prohibitive for many small businesses. Cisco’s hybrid solution, consisting of an agent embedded in a small network appliance and a secure cloud service, is aimed squarely at VARs that provide managed services to small businesses. These companies often lack dedicated IT staff and tend to depend on part-time IT people or external contractors to manage IT. With scarce resources typically stretched thin, small businesses are often unable to keep up with the demands of routine technology management–let alone support growth goals with new technology solutions.

At the same time, many VARs are looking for ways to quickly and efficiently offer remote management services to their small business customers, and the ability to provide more proactive guidance and management advice.

 Cisco OnPlus gives VARs an efficient way to expand their managed service offerings through remote management and visibility into the customer  network and the devices attached to the network. VARs simply plug the OnPlus Network Agent appliance into a switch or router on the customer’s network, and the OnPlus Agent then transmits information about the customer’s network and all connected devices to a secure data center for access by the VAR (Figure 2). Native apps for Apple and Android mobile devices are available for free from those companies’ app stores. The VARs have the flexibility to define their own business model for using OnPlus.  Some  will add additional fees based on their coverage and response times. Others will use OnPlus to enhance their service capabilities without additional charges to their customers.  In addition, VARs can use OnPlus as a tool to accelerate pre-sale assessments with prospective customers.

Figure 2: Cisco OnPlus Solution Service Data and Communications Flow

Source: Cisco, 2011

Cisco OnPlus appliance discovers Cisco and third-party devices with an IP address connected to the network and displays them in topology and inventory views. Partners can access a real-time view of customer networks from anywhere, through a highly secure portal using a PC, tablet, or mobile device. VARs work with small businesses to define and customize alert thresholds. Through OnPlus, VARs can also provide small businesses with automated reports of all the activity and tasks performed on the network.

Pricing is $250 (approx.  $7 per month, after typical discounts), which includes a three-year OnPlus subscription and the network agent appliance that is installed at the customer site. The OnPlus service from Cisco is available now in U.S. and Canada, with a rollout in Europe and Asia planned for 2012.

Quick Take

Cisco OnPlus delivers cost-efficient scalable IT management and peace of mind that small businesses need without sacrificing the local VAR that many SMBs want to do business with. On the VAR side, it provides a fast, efficient way to onboard customers into a managed service practice, provide more proactive services, and provide more efficient service to more small businesses customers.  With the advantages, Cisco OnPlus should be very attractive to Cisco VARs and enable Cisco to make significant inroads in the small business segment.

That said, Cisco OnPlus can significantly strengthen its story by:

  • Offering additional functionality in the areas of IT asset utilization and management (both hardware and software) to support compliance
  • Providing additional performance management solutions
  • Making it an extensible solution so that VARs can easily add additional value-added solutions like remote backup, Infrastructure on-demand, and business continuity services
  • Help VARs position and demonstrate the value of OnPlus as a comprehensive IT infrastructure management solutions vs. a network management solution
  • Investing in demand generation marketing to educate small businesses about the benefits of managed services

However, Cisco continues to invest in and develop solutions for small business, and OnPlus provides strong evidence that Cisco understands both small business pain points and how to create solutions that provide clear benefits to its partners. Cisco’s OnPlus should be a big step forward in helping Cisco VARs to move beyond the role of network product suppliers to become more strategic managed service providers.

Slideshow: Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2012

Each year, the SMB Group offers its Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions. In 2011, we created a slideshow version. Due to popular demand, we’ve created a slideshow version of our 2012 predictions, which are summarized below.

  1. Economic Anxiety Lowers SMB Revenue Expectations and Tightens Tech Wallets
  2. The SMB Progressive Class Gains Ground
  3. The SMB Social Media Divide Grows
  4. Cloud Becomes the New Normal
  5. Mobile Application Use Extends Beyond Email to Business Applications
  6. Increased SMB Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics Investments Are Sparked by the Social-Mobile-Cloud Triumvirate
  7. Managed Services Meet Mobile
  8. The Accidental Entrepreneur Spikes Demand for No-Employee Small Business Solutions
  9. Increased Adoption of Collaboration and Communication Services in Integrated Suites
  10. The IT Channel Continues to Shape-Shift

For the more detailed text version, see our 2012 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions.

For a look back on 2011 trends, see Report Card: 2011 Top 10 SMB Technology Market Predictions.

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