Taking the Plunge: Triggers for Small Businesses to Move to SAP Business One

SAP logoWhen it comes to business management and  enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, SAP often isn’t on the radar for small and medium businesses (SMBs). But, while the ERP giant is best known for its large enterprise solutions, SAP Business One is aimed squarely at providing small businesses with a unified business management solution.

In this three-part series, I interview Luis Murguia, who was recently appointed Senior VP and general manager for SAP Business One to discuss how the solution fits into SAP’s strategy, what makes it a good fit for SMBs, and how the vendor plans to move Business One from being one of SAP’s best kept secret onto SMB short lists for ERP solutions.

In this second post, we talk about the triggers that motivate small businesses to move from entry-level accounting to SAP Business One, and how SAP and its partners help them take the leap.

Laurie: So, SAP Business One provides small businesses with more of their industry-specific needs already configured right out of the gate, and getting it in a cloud model means they don’t have to worry about installing hardware and software. But just the thought of moving from an entry-level or lower end accounting to a more robust ERP system can be very intimidating for smaller companies. So what triggers do you see motivating them to finally take the plunge and move up?


bandaidLuis:
I think a lot of us in most aspects of life; we tend to keep putting Band-Aids on pain. But finally someone says I can’t keep putting on the Band-Aids on this, I need something more comprehensive to manage my business with? I remember the story of the largest manufacturer of white boxes, white label PCs in Brazil. They were very successful in selling to schools, and any place that needed a large number of PCs because they were very price competitive. What triggered ERP adoption for them was the day they delivered the wrong PC configuration to a big customer. They lost a fortune scrambling to produce another batch, and they also realized that they almost lost one of their most important customers because of contractual requirements and remedial penalties.

Laurie: Ouch.

Luis: They were trying to do all this with manual processes and Excel files. But when you are using a lot of Excel files that need to be aligned and synchronized. In this case, they only needed one disconnect to get massive mistakes with the customer’s configuration. So they realized they had to bite the bullet and get their house in order to be much more operationally efficient.

Laurie: Okay, so how do SAP and its partners help small businesses avoid pitfalls when they’re ready to take this leap and implement Business One?

Luis: Well, some of our most successful US partners insist new customers pass a week of product training before they implement Business Because when end-users feel comfortable with the application, this helps guide the implementation and ensures users get value from it right away. So attention to end-user training is really making the difference when it comes to successful implementation.

This post is the second of a three-part series. In the third, we’ll explore SAP’s Business One strategy and goals for the future. 

Yes, Virginia, SAP Does Have a Real Small Business ERP Solution

SAP logoWhen it comes to business management and  enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, SAP often isn’t on the radar for small and medium businesses (SMBs). But, while the ERP giant is best known for its large enterprise solutions, SAP Business One is aimed squarely at providing small businesses with a unified business management solution.

In this three-part series, I interview Luis Murguia, who was recently appointed Senior VP and general manager for SAP Business One to discuss how the solution fits into SAP’s strategy, what makes it a good fit for SMBs, and how the vendor plans to move Business One from being one of SAP’s best kept secret onto SMB short lists for ERP solutions.

In this first post, we discuss Luis’ background, Business One history, and some of the key differentiators it has in the SMB ERP market.

Laurie:  Hi this is Laurie McCabe from SMB Group and today I’m talking to Luis Murguia, Senior VP and general manager for SAP Business One. Business One is SAP’s flagship ERP solution for small and medium businesses. So Luis you’re relatively new in this role, can you tell us a little bit about where you come from, and why you decided to become part of the Business One team at SAP.

luisLuis: Thank you Laurie, and great to catch up. I’ve been with SAP for 9 years, in the enterprise division as well as the partner organization. For the past 6 years, I ran SAP’s European partner organization. Throughout my career I have been involved with the ERP market. I started my career in providing ERP solutions for small wholesale food distributors, working with solutions like Peachtree, QuickBooks. Then I moved into selling HP3000 servers pre-loaded with business management software. So I’ve been involved in helping small business find new ways better ways to run the business and be more successful throughout my career.

Laurie: It sounds like you have a well-rounded history and in terms of small business solutions, which brings me to my next question. Many people think of SAP primarily as a big company a big company that sells sophisticated, high-end business solutions to other big companies. So what’s SAP’s role in small business?

Luis: Great question. Ben Horowitz, a venture capitalist that I admire a lot, was also a CEO of a start-up that became very successful in the dot-com crisis. He describes innovation as a really good idea that initially looks like a bad idea. This because any good idea that looks good off the bat is probably not innovative, as it s likely that many people are already doing it. For example manufacturing a car is a good idea because people need cars, but everybody knows it.

Laurie: So unless you’re like Tesla it’s not necessarily a new idea.

Luis:  Exactly. 10 years ago people thought the idea of making a high performance car that runs 100% on electricity was such bad idea was no one was doing it. But then Tesla did it. Likewise, Business One, which is designed for small businesses, doesn’t appear to be a fit for SAP. But actually, we can leverage many SAP strengths, including industry knowledge and best practices, such as order to cash, and package it for small business. That’s what makes Business One such a novel and successful product. We instill and capture expertise from SAP’s big business ERP to help our smaller business customers be more competitive.

Laurie: Ok, explain a bit of the Business One history for us.

Luis: Business One has about 50,000 customers. The solution has been available for the last 15 years, and we are accelerating growth, adding close to 1500 new customers every quarter. Every day, about 15 new companies in the world choose Business One to manage the business.

Laurie: Why do you think growth is accelerating now?

diversityLuis: I’ve been with Business One for just about four months, and I see two great takeaways to date. Number one is that Business One can be run in the customer’s own facilities, as well as in the cloud. Businesses like having this choice. The second reason, and perhaps more important, it is that more customers are choosing Business One because of the in-depth industry functionality that has been developed by our partner ecosystem.

Laurie: So is the focus for Business One to differentiate with industry specific versions or customizations?

Luis: That is 100% correct. And let’s talk a little bit about customer size segmentation too. We divide the Business One market into three distinct segments: companies with less than 50 employees, those with between 50-200 employees, and ones with 200 to 1,000 employees. The first, businesses with less than 50 employees will usually be running QuickBooks, as a standard off the shelf solution. In the 50 to 200 employee category, companies are probably using Microsoft Dynamics, Sage or another solution that they’ve customized to some extent, but they don’t have the critical mass to afford systems integrators to meet all of their requirements. Business One really fits the bill here, because we have over 600 micro-vertical customizations.

Laurie: So Business One has become a software development platform?

Luis: Yes, standard accounting, standard invoicing, management, sales, taxes, and other functionality is in there, and the ISV can build specific micro-vertical functionality on top of it–say for photo copier dealers or microbreweries, which have very different requirements. And in that 50-200 employee segment, that’s exactly what they need, a full solution to manage unique requirements, off the shelf. They can derive more value from a complete micro-vertical solution with Business One as the foundation.

Laurie: And having it available in the cloud probably helps a lot too.

Luis: Yes, in the US, over 85% of all new Business One customers are choosing cloud deployments. Many sign a contract a perpetual license from SAP for financial reasons, because most will stick with an ERP solution for a long time. It is much better, just like its better to own the house than renting the house–the math says you should buy not rent. But they are having partners run and manage Business One for them in the cloud. Say you are a microbrewery in Chicago. You don’t worry about servers, disasters or backups; you eliminate the traditional headaches associated with IT infrastructure. So even though many buy a perpetual license, all the infrastructure and management is in the cloud.

This post is the first of a three-part series. In the second, we’ll examine key triggers and requirements that drive small businesses to move from entry-level accounting solutions to SAP Business One. In the third, we’ll explore SAP’s Business One strategy and goals for the future. 

Unit4 Kicks Off North America Market Focus

unit4_logoUnit4, long-time European ERP leader, is making a concerted push into North America. To that end, it hosted industry analysts at the beautiful 60 State Street Boston venue on June 10. Read my Storify account of the event here.

Mobile Solutions Play a Big Role in Small Businesses

Small businesses are rapidly moving to mobile solutions to gain anytime, anywhere access to people, information and applications. As mobile becomes a mainstream solution technology, small businesses must also factor mobile into their broader technology strategies and plans. Our 2014 SMB Mobile Solutions Study highlights the powerful impact of mobile in very small (1-19 employees) and small (20-99 employees) businesses to date, and implications for the future.

Changes in Attitudes

Mobile applications are quickly becoming indispensable for many small businesses. As shown on Figure 1, a half of very small and two-thirds of small businesses regard mobile solutions as critical for their businesses. Slightly more than half of these organizations also view mobile apps as helping to drive business growth. Consequently, it’s not surprising that mobile apps are playing a bigger role in small business operations. A substantial majority see mobile apps as complementing traditional business apps, and 67% of very small and 73% of small businesses believe that mobile apps will even replace some of their current business applications.

Figure 1: Small Businesses are Bullish on Mobile SolutionsSlide1

For small businesses, cash is king. Attracting new customers, growing revenues, and maintaining/improving profitability as top business goals (Figure 2). Small businesses see mobile solutions as very instrumental in helping them to address these and other important customer engagement, workforce and financial goals.

Figure 2: Top Small Business GoalsSlide2

For instance, 70% of very small and 87% of small businesses agree that mobile solutions play a significant role in improving customer experience and retention (Figure 3). Almost two-thirds see mobile as playing a significant role in helping them to attract new customers.

Figure 3: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Customer ChallengesSlide3

Survey respondents are also convinced that mobile solutions help them create a more effective, productive workforce environment, with 74% of very small and a close to unanimous 91% of small businesses seeing mobile as boosting employee productivity. Furthermore, almost two-thirds see mobile solutions as helping them to attract and retain quality employees, reflecting the reality that people increasingly want to gain the same level of mobile access, convenience and information in their business lives as they are getting as consumers. Mobile solutions are likely to become even more important to recruiting new employees as small businesses seeking to hire more younger workers and millenials.

Figure 4: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Workforce ChallengesSlide4

Perhaps most telling, small businesses see mobile solutions as playing a significant role in helping them meet critical top and bottom line business challenges, such as reacting quickly to changing market conditions, reducing operating costs, improving cash flow, and growing revenue.

Figure 5: Significance of Mobile Solutions In Addressing Financial ChallengesSlide5

More Work Is Getting Done On Mobile Devices

Businesses are taking advantage of providing employees with the ability to work anytime, anywhere via mobile devices (Figure 6). Small business use of basic collaboration and productivity tools such as email, calendar and contacts is already mainstream, with upwards of 80% of very small and small businesses already using these apps on mobile devices. However, some mobile collaboration and productivity apps are poised for strong gains next year, with 20%-plus of small business respondents planning to deploy mobile conferencing, document management, find-me-follow-me presence, personal assistant and/or document editing and creation apps within the next 12 months.

Figure 6: Small Business Employees are Doing More Work On Mobile DevicesSlide6

Mobile business apps have made strong gains over the past three years, particularly among businesses with 20-99 employees, where the number of mobile business apps used regularly jumped 27% over the past year. We expect this trend to continue, as respondent’s plans to add new mobile business apps in the next 12 months were strong across the board. Mobile apps for time management and capture lead the way, with 25% of both very small and small businesses planning to add this capability; followed by mobile marketing and advertising (24%); business analytics (23%); and financial management/payment processing (23%).

Small Businesses Are Deploying Mobile Web Sites and Apps for Customers

Since attracting new customers and growing revenues are top goals for small businesses, it’s not surprising that they are investing in mobile web sites and apps for customers, partners and suppliers. 48% of small businesses now have a mobile-friendly website, and 30% offer at least one mobile app for customers. Growth across all functional areas is up dramatically year-over-year (Figure 7), and plans to add more external-facing apps are healthy.

Figure 7: Small Businesses are Rapidly Adopting Customer-Facing Mobile AppsSlide7

Small business attitudes about mobile solutions are remarkably positive, and small business ascent up the mobile adoption curve has been nothing short of revolutionary when compared to other technology areas.

As a result, mobile is already having a significant impact on decision-making in other IT areas (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Mobile Impact on IT DecisionsSlide8

Perspective

As the mobile-first mentality becomes more pervasive, small businesses will need more guidance to ensure that their strategies for cloud, networking, infrastructure, legacy applications and devices support, enhance and integrate with the mobile solutions they deploy. By developing a holistic strategy, rather than taking a reactive approach, small businesses can both maximize value from their mobile investments, and reduce management headaches down the road.

This is the second post in a two-part series sponsored by Dell that discusses how small businesses are using mobile technologies in their businesses.

Infusionsoft ICON15: Inspiration and Automation for Small Business Marketing

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight.

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe and I’m here today for SMB’s Spotlight with Greg Head, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft. We’re at the ICON 2015 event, which is Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. It’s been a blast so far and I’d like to learn more about it, but Greg, could you start just by telling us a little bit about what Infusionsoft, and about the company in general?
Greg: Well, Infusionsoft is the leading sales and marketing software for small businesses and the company has been around for just over 12 years. It started as a small business that turned into a startup that turned into a growth company. And now it’s one of the largest software companies, with 30,000 small business customers. We serve exclusively small businesses and we have over 600 employees and thousands of partners.
Laurie: And located here in the Phoenix area?
Greg: Yes, located here in Phoenix where we started.
Laurie: Okay, and just to clarify when you say small business–because we know as analysts when people say small business they could mean a thousand different things–what’s small business for Infusionsoft?
Greg: Well, we serve small businesses that have up and running businesses. That are full time and have employees and are still owner operated, which means most of our customers have 25 employees and of that most have fewer than 10. That’s where most small businesses reside, but there’s the mid-market of hundreds employees and on up that we are not involved with at all.
Laurie: Okay, that’s good clarification. So tell us about ICON. This is the third year I’ve been here so I’m very familiar, that it’s a great event, but who is it for? What are the goals for the event?
Greg: ICON is our annual conference for users and partners, and now other small businesses that want to join in on all the learning and keynote speakers and so forth. So it’s here at the Phoenix Convention Center, we outgrew the conference room and then hotel rooms and the largest hotel in Phoenix. It’s kind of a movement that’s been happening and now there are over 3500 people here this week. Here exclusively to talk about small business growth, small business sales and marketing, some on how to use Infusionsoft better, that’s definitely part of it. You can be here for three days and attend very valuable sessions and keynotes on these topics.
Laurie: Yes, we will post a link to where people can get more information about the sessions.
Greg: Excellent.
Laurie: So, can you tell me a little bit more about the Infusionsoft solution, what does it do for small businesses? Why do they use it? What benefits do they get out of it?
Greg: Yeah, the main thing, is that our solution is the small business CRM, the contact management, the customer database, and the marketing capabilities from web forms, to emails, and all the automation needed make things go–because small business owners need to make things go.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And ecommerce to transact online, it’s all in one system. So we help small businesses that are growing and have customers, leads in their funnel coming off the website and Facebook, the new digital funnel has exploded.
Laurie: Right. Exactly.
Greg: Most small businesses have a dozen different tools to capture leads over here and to sell something online over here. So Infusionsoft is the one system that can organize all of that.
Laurie: And to automate it.
Greg: Yeah, once you are organized you can actually automate. You can set it up to start doing things for you that we used to have to do manually.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And that’s driving a lot of small businesses crazy.
Laurie: Yes, because you can’t keep up with the follow up and the other things that you need to do on that one off basis in a small company. Well, even in a large company it just doesn’t scale. So if you don’t automate it…
Greg: Yeah, but big companies, for instance, at Infusionsoft, we have IT resources, technology, and money to throw at it. Small businesses need one system that’s going to run and help to do that.
Laurie: Yes, absolutely, and I think that as a small business, that you got to have the inspiration, the perspiration, but then you need automation because if you don’t have that you know that perspiration factor just shoots right up.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie: And you’re killing yourself before long with that. And that gets on to my next question, which is for many small businesses, unless they are sales and marketing coaches, or something like that, sales and marketing is an intimidating thing. Putting yourself out there, fear of rejection and everything else. So when you counsel people about some of the basics, things they should look at when you’re thinking, “Okay how do I take sales and marketing in my company to the next level? Or I realize that my revenues are flat, or my revenues are declining, so I’ve got to do something. Where is the right place to start?” How should they think about tactics, strategy, that kind of thing?
Greg: Well, most small business owners don’t think about it separately, it’s part of what they do, and they’re in the firefight. So the first thing is when we help them, it’s a function of where they are in the stage of their business. Maybe they’ve just quit their job, and now they have the business up and running, and getting sales going for the first time. Or maybe they have some revenues and they’re trying to grow figure out tactics to make it work, and 10 or 20 employees, you’ve got different types of issues there. But primarily small businesses jump right into the tactics to go get people to talk to, to sell or convert online. So they run right into the tactical mode, and that’s where all the beginning is. They have a hard time taking a step back and looking how to optimize all that.
Laurie: Their real objectives are how they are going to measure the improvement?
Greg: Yeah, again they get a little stuck because they are peddling so fast, and they don’t look at the biggest thing underneath of all of that is distinguishing the right market for their products and services. At first everybody goes out and tries to sell to everybody but after a while, you have to start narrowing it down, to the ones who are your best customers and prospects.
Laurie: So I know you have a lot of tools to help people use the Infusionsoft solution, do you also have services to help them figure out those bigger picture things?
Greg: Yeah, well small businesses need help and between our partners and us we help them get Infusionsoft set up and get the system running and helping in their business, and we’re also advising them tactically where they should be spending time to plug the hole. Our partners do consulting as well to help small businesses figure out their marketing strategy. At ICON, over half of the speaking sessions are not about the tactical, day-to-day tactics. We are also trying to help them with ways to think about the business, and how to get through the next hurdle in the business. While businesses get to a once place, then it’s a struggle to get to the next level.
Laurie: Yeah, getting stuck and then unstuck.
Greg: So getting unstuck is a major part of what people get from coming to Infusionsoft, for a few days seeing some other possibilities and getting some tactical help to help bridge some of those gaps.
Laurie: Yeah, I like because we all get stuck in our own ruts. S one last question for you really. For you, what are the most exciting highlights here at ICON?
Greg: Well it’s a big deal for us when we get to be with all of the people that we serve. That’s why we’re here, and we get to hear all the small business stories about the stuck and unstuck. We appreciate that and all the challenges small businesses face. Some of our customers get on stage and tell their stories, and that’s a big part of what we do here. We’re continuing to grow, this is a major movement. And we’re announcing new capabilities in our product and the Infusionsoft payments to make getting paid easier and simpler, and more.
Laurie: Right, so once customers are ready to buy, you can easily process the payment.
Greg: Well, big companies, other departments handle the function of getting paid.
Laurie: We all want to get paid, right? I think that should be a good program, and you also introduced some new things to help them get started more quickly?
Greg: Yeah, there are new resources, we keep improving the resources we have for small business owners, starting with Infusionsoft get started and learn more about the concept that they may or may not know. So that’s part of our help center, and our kick-start services that we offer. And we are always making the software easier because we know small businesses have a passion, and they don’t want to spend all day reading manuals and learning to use something. You know most small business owners are focused on something else. So we try to make it easier to focus on the things that they do, and to get back the time and passion and growth in their lives. Families all that stuff that they thought they’re going to get more of, but didn’t really work out that way, so that’s why we’re here.
Laurie: This has been a great synopsis of Infusionsoft and ICON. Thanks Greg, so much.
Greg: Thank you very much.

See ICON15 event highlights here

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– See more at: http://www.smb-gr.com/blogs-sanjeev-aggarwal/infusionsoft-icon15-inspiration-and-automation-for-small-business-marketing-2/#sthash.1OoIu2rn.dpuf

Sneak Peek: Infusionsoft’s ICON 2015 Conference for Small Business Marketers

icon2015Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe for SMB Spotlight and today I have the pleasure of speaking with Greg Head. Greg is the CMO, Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft and I’ll be heading out to Infusionsoft’s 2015 ICON conference, which will be in Phoenix from March 31st through April 2nd.

So Greg, I know that Infusionsoft and ICON are very, very focused on helping small businesses market themselves more effectively. So for anyone who is not familiar with Infusionsoft if you can just start with providing us with a quick overview about Infusionsoft?

Greg Head, CMO, InfusionsoftGreg: Great, Laurie, I’ll just start at the top. Infusionsoft is the leading sales and marketing software provider for small businesses around the world. We are based in Chandler, Arizona, we’ve been growing for over 12 years and we now have over 25,000 businesses that use our software–to help them get organized in their digital sales and marketing and revenue generation activities, grow their sales and save time. Infusionsoft is exclusively focused on small businesses, primarily owner owned and operated, generally with ewer than 25 employees.

Infusionsoft now has over 650 employees and thousands of partners, and hundreds of add-on applications. We appeal to small businesses generate a lot of their revenues through their website or social media pages, who are to keep all that together and automated. So a lot of people call us the Salesforce for small businesses. And that’s really our passion, we think small businesses are the lifeblood of economies around the world, where things start and where things grow, and where a lot of jobs are created.

Laurie: Thanks. Now, can you give us a little sneak peak into the ICON 2015 conference?

Greg: Well, it’s just an awesome event, really useful and inspiring for small business owners who of course are really practical. Customers come every year, and you know that small business owners don’t regularly go to conferences in other cities. But this is one they do travel for because it’s very valuable to them. We provide inspiring keynotes from world-class small business speakers and experts, on mindset, marketing, growth, you know, how the world is changing, so they can kind of get connected to what’s happening there.

They can also learn a lot more about Infusionsoft. There are tracks for beginners and advanced Infusionsoft users and team members can fan out and do that. There’s implementation experts onsite they can sit with to work right on their app and get things done and make a huge amount of progress. There are networking opportunities, partner solutions, and many sales and marketing growth tracks. So supply all of the content, energy, experts, community, and the network of these people to help these small businesses grow. You really can’t get it just by reading blog posts.

Laurie: Now what about prospects, do they attend the conference?

Greg: Well, it’s primarily for our customers, but we bring in world name speakers and have three days worth of sessions that focus on marketing, not on Infusionsoft. So every year, more potential Infusionsoft customers or partners come to the event. It’s quite economical, and extremely valuable, everything is in one place. So prospects are becoming a bigger contingent at ICON.

Laurie: So can you tell me who some of the speakers that you are especially looking forward to at the event and why?

fascinateGreg: This year we’re focused on speakers that can bring value and are very focused on small business. For instance, Sally Hogshead is a speaker and author and helps people think differently about how to conceptualize the business and make it stronger. She’s got a new book called Fascinate, and is a great speaker. Small business owners of course they’re really busy and in the passion of their business, getting things done and dealing with all of the machinery. So thinking about things differently can shed new light.

Laurie: Any others at the top of your list?

essentialismGreg: Greg Mckeown, who has written a powerful book that addresses one of the key challenges that small business owners have. There’s just too much going on, they can never keep up, they’re so distracted, and it’s really hard to have the life they want, the business success that they want. His book, called Essentialism, is about creating focus, not just in the business, but also in your life. So, the speakers focus a lot on the mindset of success.

Laurie: Fascination and essentialism, they both sound pretty important! Ok, having attended ICON for a couple of years, I’m wondering if you’re planning any major changes from last year’s ICON?

Greg: Well, we’ve got a few more big sponsors with a strong small business focus, including Google, Facebook and AmEx. We’ll have the MSNBC Street Studio as well. The Phoenix Convention Center is large, so there are more networking events for partners and our customers to get connect. And, we’ve expanded our experts’ room, so customers can sit down with them for free advice right on site. Kind of like going to the Apple Genius bar to work right on their app. there’s also the ICON implementation zone, which is new this year. So, we are providing more practical guidance and support so customers can make things happen in their Infusionsoft application right there. So we can fill their brains with great inspiration and new knowledge and ways of thinking, and help them improve the way their Infusionsoft app works at the conference.

Laurie: Sounds great and I’m really looking forward to the event and seeing you there! I’m sure a lot of other people are as well. And I want to thank you, Greg, for giving us a sneak preview.

Greg: Thanks Laurie. See you in a few weeks.

The Cloud: Mother of Re-invention for IBM

ibm logoAs a 104-year old company, IBM has undergone many makeovers over the years to tack to the ever-changing winds of the technology industry and the market. 2015 ushered in what may prove to be one of it’s biggest transformations, when earlier this year, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty dramatically reorganized the company to better align with today’s cloud, mobile and analytics oriented technology landscape, and with the increasing consumerization of the business technology market.

This time, IBM’s restructuring puts software in the spotlight. IBM is replacing its former software, hardware and services silos with a more holistic approach designed to synchronize with customers’ growing preferences for cloud-based solutions. Research, Sales & Delivery, Systems, Global Technology Services, Cloud, Watson (IBM’s artificial intelligence and analytics), Security, Commerce and Analytics are now IBM’s main business units, with Mobility as an overlay to these groups. Meanwhile, IBM hardware and software channel teams will both report into IBM’s global Business Partner Group.

interconnect2015-800x160InterConnect 2015: Hybrid Cloud Takes Center Stage

In February, we had our first chance to see how these organizational shifts are coming to life. At IBM InterConnect, IBM rolled what had previously been three separate events for three different solutions groups (Pulse/Tivoli, Impact/WebSphere and Innovate/Rational) into one, reflecting the organizational changes. IBM took advantage of this opportunity begin to put its new story in perspective for an audience of over 21,000 customer, partner and influencer attendees.

IBM has cast it’s hybrid cloud strategy in the starring role of the next chapter of it’s story, with mobile, integration and business process, security, IoT and data, and the partner ecosystem in key supporting roles. Needless to say, IBM was trying to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but here are the key themes that it emphasized:

  1. The hybrid cloud is key to digital transformation. IBM wants to provide customers with an open, flexible cloud experience across public and private clouds. IBM highlighted the importance of portability, announcing Enterprise Containers, based on a partnership between IBM and Docker. The partnership will result in IBM solutions integrated with Docker Hub Enterprise (DHE) to help companies to more efficiently run and build applications that will run anywhere, from a developer’s laptop to the IBM Cloud or on-premises. IBM also introduced Virtual Machines and Containers are now integrated as core infrastructure options in Bluemix, its cloud development platform, and virtual machined (VMs) powered by OpenStack to help IT deliver consistent, scalable business services and integrated monitoring.
  2. IBM MobileFirst, to help companies build and manage the mobile apps. According to IBM, 85% of enterprises have a mobile app backlog. IBM is positioning its MobileFirst Platform v7, announced at the event, to help companies to catch up with the backlog, and to get more value from their mobile app investments. Enhancements include capabilities to enable more efficient development, secure integration, continuous delivery, as well as an improved UI. IBM has also added a new component, the MobileFirst Platform Cloudant Data Layer Local Edition, for web and mobile access.
  1. Integration at the heart of hybrid. IBM had an Integration Booth at the event, and introduced 5 new services designed to connect clouds, refine and sync data across applications and clouds. These included API Harmony, API Harmony, which uses Watson to help developers find the right IBM or a third-party API for integration requirements; and Secure Gateway, to securely connect APIs, existing data, and systems to Bluemix through a Passport service.
  2. A new way to think about security. Most surveys show that security concerns are still the key inhibitor to cloud adoption. To help address this, IBM is encouraging customers to take a more proactive, analytics-based security approach. The vendor announced over 70 new security products and enhancements, and highlighted two 2014 security acquisitions, Lighthouse Computer Services and Crossideas as evidence of its focus on beefing up cloud and mobile security offerings to help businesses better protect, detect and respond to threats.
  3. IoT and data as agents of business transformation. The Internet of Things (IoT) and big data are two of the hottest IT trends. These two trends are also tightly connected, as the billions of IoT objects and devices coming online are generating massive quantities of data, which must be tracked, analyzed and put to practical use. As IoT exponentially accelerates data volume, velocity and variety, companies will need high-powered analytics solutions to harness and generate insights from it. This trend is behind IBM’s newly formed Internet of Things division, and initiatives that IBM is now exploring to leverage Watson analytical capabilities in an IoT world.
  4. The ecosystem is vital to IBM’s cloud success. In order to fulfill on its goal of creating the “most successful cloud ecosystem and developer experience in the industry,” IBM is ramping up programs for developers, ISVs, entrepreneurs and colleges and universities. In addition to more traditional programs, IBM is targeting top local communities and cities for as event hubs for meetups, classes, hackathons, learnathons and other programs designed to build a next-generation partner ecosystem in the cloud. 

White Clouds in Blue SkyPerspective

The changes that IBM is making to its organization and to its solution and partner focus are major ones. In the past, IBM operated in a more siloed manner, with each business unit owning its own P&L, budget, headcount and control. Back in the day, when companies often pursued different buying journeys and sought out different vendors for hardware and software, this made sense.

However, cloud computing has significantly blurred these lines. In the cloud model, buyers more often seek a solution, not piece parts. IBM’s new structure and vision are designed to meet these new expectations and demands. In an ideal world, these changes will enable IBM to more easily bring its technology innovations (such as Watson, Bluemix, and joint open source solutions) to market, and take center stage among in the cloud and adjacent markets.

But, the world is not ideal. Although IBM may have more IP, patents and research fellows than the next few tech vendors combined, it faces significant obstacles in terms of competing with more nimble competitors. To help address this, IBM recently hired Kevin Eagan, longtime Microsoft executive, as Vice President and General Manger for IBM’s Digital Channel. Eagan takes on the daunting task of making IBM easier to do business with, and as such, will play a pivotal role in IBM’s future cloud fortunes.

IBM also faces substantial pricing and margin hurdles. Will the board of directors and stockholders be willing to cannibalize traditional, higher margin business to build higher volume, but lower margin cloud business? Finally, can Big Blue get 400,000 IBMers energized and organized for the new mission?

At Interconnect, IBM demonstrated that it understands the magnitude of change that cloud, mobile, big data and IoT have wrought, and articulated its strategy to get ahead of the curve and the competition. Only time will tell if IBM can meet the necessary and perhaps more formidable challenges to change its systems, business model and culture to make this vision a reality.

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