Highlights from the 2011 SMB Group Collaboration Study

The SMB Group and CRM Essentials recently completed the 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study. We asked more than 800 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers how they collaborate, what tools they use and what their appetite is for integrated collaboration suites. In this Slideshare presentation, we share some key highlights from the study, including:

  • Top Business Challenges
  • Collaboration Culture
  • How Collaboration Culture Affects Corporate Performance
  • Reliance on and Satisfaction with Collaboration Tools
  • Collaboration Budgets
  • Adoption and Plans for Integrated Collaboration Platforms
  • Top 3 Collaboration Platforms Selected by SMBs
  • Top Reasons to Select a Specific Integrated Collaboration Solution
  • Top Reasons for No Plans to Use an Integrated Collaboration Platform
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Click here for more information about the complete study results and how to order.

Are Business App Stores Gaining Steam with Small Businesses?

I’ve been reviewing data from our latest survey, the 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, which zeros in on how SMBs discover, learn about, evaluate and purchase software and service technology solutions.

This study was a refresh of our 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study. In both years, we asked customers, “Do you use/plan to use business app stores or marketplaces (e.g. Salesforce AppExchange, Intuit Workplace, etc.)?” As shown below (Figure 1), 28% of small businesses are using app stores. The good news is that this is up from 23% last year.

Figure 1: Small Business Use and Plans: Business App Stores and Marketplaces

This year, we also asked respondents how frequently they use app stores. As you can see, only 6% of small businesses use them on a regular basis–which pales in comparison to the 42% that use search engines regularly–and also falls far short compared to sources such as email newsletters; colleagues, friends and family; vendor web sites, and Facebook–among other things.

In this 2011 survey, 17% medium businesses (100-999 employees) indicated that they use app stores on a regular basis, which may mean that as businesses get larger, and their integration requirements increase, app stores provide more value.

Source: SMB Group 2011 (click to enlarge)

App stores focused on the needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been proliferating quickly. Some of the SMB-focused app stores that have set up shop include:

  • Intuit’s Workplace App Center, which provides a central location where small businesses can locate and try business applications that work with QuickBooks and with each other.
  • Google Apps Marketplace, which offers Google users apps that integrate directly with Google Apps.
  • Zoho’s Marketplace, which provides applications that work with Zoho’s solutions.
  • Constant Contact Marketplace, which offers small businesses with applications that integrate with Constant Contact’s email and marketing tools.
  • GetApp.com, which, unlike most app marketplaces, isn’t organized around a core application or platform, but positions itself as a neutral, “meta-marketplace” that is application and platform agnostic.

There are also many business app stores that aren’t exclusively focused on SMBs, but feature plenty of apps relevant to SMB requirements, such Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Sugar CRM’s SugarExchange

Theoretically, these sites should make it easier for users to find, try, evaluate and purchase applications. But our study analysis suggests that app stores will need to do more to live up to their promise of becoming a premier and potentially disruptive SMB information and purchase channel.

Smarter Commerce for the Midmarket: An Interview with IBM’s Ron Kline

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the third post in the series, which is a summarize transcript of the podcast series that Brent Leary of CRM Essentials and Sanjeev Aggarwal, of SMB Group recorded with Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division, about IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions for SMBs. If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast series, click here.

Brent Leary:  We’re really excited to talk to Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s midmarket division. Ron, before we jump into the Smarter Commerce Imitative, IBM has been doing so much around this whole idea of a Smarter Planet, can you talk a little bit about the big picture of the Smarter Planet initiative.

Ron Kline:  Sure. What we mean by Smarter Planet is that the world we live in is becoming smarter. Everything around us is becoming more and more instrumented, and that allows us to measure really almost anything.

Think about it: there are over a billion transistors for every person on the planet. Over 30 billion RFID tags are embedded across the supply chain around the world. Everything is becoming instrumented.  Supply chains, health care networks, even natural systems like our rivers.  As a result of being able to measure and instrument from various touch points, the world becomes much more inter-connected and intelligent. By measuring and connect this information, you can build a more intelligent planet – one that can respond much more quickly to change.

Take an example like in San Francisco where they’ve launched a parking system so you can see what parking spaces are available throughout the city and determine where there is an open place to park. I actually have this app on my iPhone now. With the next step, you’ll be able to pay for your parking using your smartphone as the payment device.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Thanks Ron. So what is Smarter Commerce, and how does it fit into the bigger Smarter Planter picture?

Ron Kline:  Smarter Commerce is about how we deliver the customer experience using all of the insights that we are gaining about our clients and supply chain to provide a much better customer experience.

For example, you used to just go out and buy a car, or a company would just order parts from a supplier. But as consumers got more information at their fingertips, they could start to get price comparisons online and hear what other people had to say about a particular product before they go shop. Things have quickly moved on to include people sharing information and opinions on social networking sites and blogs.

Smarter Commerce helps you maximize the insight that you generate through customer interactions, whether in the store, over the web, from smart devices – what is being said out in social communities and taking that insight and pulling it together to improve the customer experience. Then you can tailor your offerings to what a customer is interested in.  You can improve profitability by targeting the right offerings to the right customer at the right time, or by reducing the cost of returns, restocking, and supply chain expense by having to handle reverse logistics because you just didn’t know what the customer was looking for. The bottom line is improving the overall customer experience and living up to customer expectations.

We sort that into four big buckets, but it all comes down to customer experience. It’s the marketing, how do I target and personalize my marketing?  Yes, to get better yield out of my marketing dollar but really to have a better experience for my customers – so that I am providing relevant, targeted, offerings or information. Then, how do I manage that whole sales process, fulfillment across stores, the web, social sites. And customer service has to span all of the touch points. It’s not enough to have a customer service department anymore, customer service is something that a client experiences when he is buying a product or shopping for a product and when he is looking for additional service. On the internal side,  how do I control the procurement of goods and source the goods. I can have a smarter procurement process and a smarter supply chain process only if I know really more about my customer.

Brent Leary:  Talk a little bit about who should care about Smarter Commerce in an organization and why they should care about it.

Ron Kline:  Well, the customers care about it, so therefore, all of us as businesses need to care about it.  It’s something that any business of any size really needs to focus on.  It’s just as important for small and midsize businesses to deliver a superior customer experience as it is for a large enterprise.  In fact, Smarter Commerce and Smarter Planet can help level the playing field for midsize companies. In this environment, it’s all about building a more loyal customer, understanding that customer better, and then being able to deliver a better experience.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  Can you give us an example of how a midsize company is using Smarter Commerce today and what type of results they are achieving?

Ron Kline:  Sure. One example I find pretty interesting is Elie Tahari, a high fashion clothing designer and retailer. Nobody is more focused on appealing to the tastes and the emotions of their customers, but those tastes can change very quickly and a manufacturer who is caught with too much of yesterday’s style has got a lot of money tied up in inventory that is out of date.

Elie Tahari implemented an IBM Cognos solution that allows them to have a unified view of all of the information available from their different systems to make better decisions about what the market is saying and what specific customer needs are.

So now, instead of following what was a typical practice in the retailing industry–sending stores the same distribution of sizes based on historical information across the country–Elie Tahari has insight from their customer data for each particular store over a period of time. They can say, the distribution looks a little different over here, and distribute accordingly. It’s a better customer experience because the chances of being out of stock had been reduced. It saves money on costs of returns or discounting to try to move product that is not selling, either because you don’t have the right style in stock or you have to return it back to the parent company because you ordered too many of one size. This has enabled them to improve the customer experience, and on the supply chain side, they don’t end up with too much of the wrong type of thing.

Another example is BJU Press, a publisher in the United States that provides home schooling materials for kids in the K-12 age group.  They have developed a web store front end with an IBM partner, CrossView, using WebSphere Commerce, and Coremetrics, a web analytics application. Now they can provide customers with an easier online experience to search for products, continually improve that search experience.

In both cases, IBM and its patterns were able to not only improve the customer experience, but also the economics for the company as well.

Brent Leary:  Ron, those are some great examples, but how is IBM making Smarter Commerce accessible to the SMB market?

Ron Kline:  In fact, the examples that I gave you are midsize companies. They have the same pain points as larger companies; they just haven’t had the ability to address it in the past because a lot of the technology and solutions were out of reach.

IBM has bridged that gap in a of couple ways.  One way is to provide offerings that are built and designed for the midmarket.  We have a process in IBM to insure that the offerings that we bring to market for this customer segment are built and priced appropriately for midsize companies.  An example, Unica Email Optimization [OnDemand] Solution is $1,500 a month for running up to twenty-five events.  It’s very a very affordable solution with a lot of really great technology in it.  Unica Marketing Operations [OnDemand] is another one, marketing operations on demand is $6,000 per year for up to ten seats.  These are very much within the range of a midsize company, and provide the kind of analytics and insights that help a company deliver this Smarter Commerce experience.

We’ve also learned that customers are looking for local trusted advisors and that’s where IBM’s investment in a very large partner ecosystem has helped bring the IBM technology to these midsize companies through local business partners.

Sanjeev Aggarwal:  How does an SMB that wants to learn more about this get started?

Ron Kline:  Absolutely, first of all, you can talk to your local business partner because they are the trusted advisor for you there locally.  At www.IBM.com/smartercommerce you can learn about what Smarted Commerce is and get a bigger picture view of what other customers are doing in this area and how they are benefiting, and of course, what our offerings are.

Brent Leary:  Ron thanks so much for your time today and explaining what Smarter Commerce is all about, thanks again.

Ron Kline:  My pleasure, thank you very much.

This is the third of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll talk about how Speedo International is serving smarter customers with Smarter Commerce solutions. In the meantime, please share with us the successes you’ve had and the challenges you face in adapting your business to better serve smarter customers.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Twitter

If you’re in the IT industry, tweeting has probably become a regular part of your day, like brushing your teeth. I know it has for me, as an industry analyst and researcher.

But, since joining the Twitterverse in 2008, I’ve slowly but surely reconciled myself to the fact that Twitter is my frenemy–because in most cases, the same reasons I love it are also the reasons I hate it!

My relationship with the cute little blue bird is complicated, for many reasons:

  1. I can say anything on Twitter. Free speech and all that is a great thing, of course. And Twitter is a great way to share ideas as well as random thoughts. But, how much is too much and how much is not enough? Just one more thing to worry about, especially now that many people also seem to be fixated on Klout scores which seem more correlated to volume than anything else.
  2. Anyone else can say anything on Twitter. I pick up a lot of very interesting tips, insights and ideas from other people’s tweets. And I may even be interested in where the closest of the thousands of people I follow are checking in on Foursquare. But there is also a great deal of trash–and seemingly more often of late, spam–swimming in the Twitter stream. Since one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, it may be wishful thinking to hope that filtering can one day take care of this problem, but I’m hoping. And of course, it means that people can have other people or entire teams of other people sending Tweets out for them. Ugh–very inauthentic and usually results in Twitter overload.
  3. The short lifespan of a tweet. The social media analytics and monitoring service Sysomos says that he average life span of a tweet is less than an hour. If a tweet falls in the Twitterverse, and there’s no one there to retweet or reply to it, did it really fall? The fact is that if no one retweets or replies a tweet within the first hour, the odds are that nobody ever will. So if I say something dumb, 99.99% of my followers won’t notice, which is great. But when I say something (that at least I think is) insightful or interesting, 99.99% of my followers won’t ever see that either!
  4. DMing (direct messages). This is great–a fast, quick and to the point way to engage. But unlike some of my peers that are more adept at multi-tasking, if I don’t happen to be looking at Tweetdeck, I may not see a DM in a timely way. I don’t use that continual alerting feature anymore because the constant pop-ups were driving me crazy and causing ADHD-like symptoms to erupt.
  5. Tweetdeck. Of course I love Tweetdeck because I can look at specific people, hashtags or groups more easily. But I hate it because it is now running about the length of a football field across my Mac screen.
  6. Now you can do long tweets! That 140-character thing is great, keeps everything short and sweet. But sometimes you just need more characters! So Deck.ly is fantastic for that when I have to use it, but a pain in the neck when I’m reading other people’s tweets and have to click-through on the link to read the whole tweet.

Phew…it was great to end my Friday by getting that off my chest, and if you have any relationship issues with Twitter, I’d love for you to share them back!

Closing the SMB Business Intelligence Gap

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, just 16% of small businesses currently use 16 % plan to use these solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Use and Plans for Business Intelligence Solutions

Source: SMB Group 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study (click to enlarge)

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 am 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 (click to enlarge)

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’re 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

Figure 3:

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.


Are You Ready? Transforming Your Business for the Smarter Customer

—by Laurie McCabe, SMB Group

In conjunction with IBM’s Smarter Commerce initiative, the SMB Group and CRM Essentials are working on a series of posts discussing how technology is empowering today’s customer, and why companies have to change their approach in order to build strong relationships with them. This is the second post in the series.

Many businesses feel like they’re in an uphill race to keep up in our increasingly connected world. With social media sites and conversations multiplying like rabbits, and 24/7 access to learn about, shop for and buy stuff on mobile devices, the world of commerce is radically and irreversibly changing.

Businesses that want to keep growing must keep learning and embrace change. As much as we like the show, the Mad Men tactics to push out messages and information to customers to entice them to buy will no longer suffice. Think about it:

  • In February 2005, just 5% of all U.S. adults said they used social media sites.
  • In 2011, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project, 65% of adults use a social networking site like Facebook or LinkedIn, and 35% use smartphones.

Today, social media and mobile are the changes that businesses need to embrace. Businesses must find better ways to listen and engage with customers—when, where and how they want—to more accurately gauge needs, provide better service and strengthen customer loyalty.

If you’re in the same boat as many midsize companies, however, embracing the change isn’t easy—even when you know it’s the right thing to do and want to do it. You didn’t get to the point of having 500 or 1,000 employees overnight. You have existing processes and systems that probably weren’t designed for this much more connected, interactive world of commerce.

For instance, in the past, sales and marketing have often focused more on pushing out messages to the market rather than actively listening to and engaging with customers to understand their wants and needs. The focus has been to move the customer through the pipeline, close business and push out information to get him or her to come back and buy more.

Thanks to the explosion of social and mobile technologies, however, things aren’t so neat and tidy anymore. The number of social sites and conversations is multiplying exponentially, and customers are more vocal. With mobile access, people can join the conversation, evaluate solutions and make purchases from any place and at any time. And their expectations are rising: They expect companies to be as agile in responding to their needs as they are in voicing them. They want things faster, on the devices they use; and if they don’t get what they want from Business A, they’ll just go to Business B.

A great example here is Blockbuster, which used to own the movie rental business. Then Netflix came on the scene, giving customers a more convenient way to rent movies than Blockbuster, first with its DVD-by-mail business, and then with video streaming. Netflix had the added twist of enabling users to rate movies and then receive recommendations for other films they might like—with a focus on delighting its customers. Meanwhile, Blockbuster stuck to its traditional model too long, was late to the game and ended up filing for bankruptcy—although it has recently been purchased by DISH Network and could rise again if it can create an edge in deciphering and responding to customers’ needs.

But it’s not just big companies that are tuning in to the smarter customer. For instance, my hair salon promotes its Facebook page to customers, and every day it posts any unbooked appointments for hair styling, coloring, facials, manicures, etc. on its wall. Customers such as myself that “like” the salon see these appointments each morning—and can book the open slots for 20% off! It’s a win-win: I get a great discount and my salon fills the slot. Another case in point is the medical practice that my family uses. The practice recently deployed an SMS text messaging service and started to offer patients the choice of being reminded of scheduled appointments via a traditional phone call or via a text. It’s in the early stage, but they’re finding that most patients prefer the texts—and that fewer patients are no-shows when they get a text reminder.

While monitoring and engaging in social media conversations is a great start, the area is so new that social media monitoring is often siloed and separate from traditional CRM, procurement or other systems—and the people who use them. If this is the case in your business, you’ve probably experienced disconnects between customer demand and your ability to satisfy it—and as a result, your business may have missed opportunities and lost revenues.

The mandate is clear: You need to adjust business processes to market to, sell to and service customers on their terms, consistently across all channels, to survive and thrive through this sea change. In a nutshell, work smarter. But how? While the die isn’t yet fully cast, we see several key points to consider when creating a transformational plan:

1.     Start with a strategy, not tools and technologies. The strategy should revolve around customer engagement and interaction. Different businesses will have different goals, depending on their particular needs, but are likely to include things such as maximizing the insights you get from customer interactions to better anticipate and respond to requirements; improving the customer experience; and improving decision-making efficiency throughout the commerce cycle. Think about the different customer and prospect touch points in your organization and how you can strengthen them, incorporating both internal and external input into the process.

2.     Consider how you’ll get the voice of the customer into the company. Does your company know where customers and prospects are talking about your brand, competitive brands and related industry trends? Are you participating in these conversations? Social media monitoring and management solutions can help you identify and manage outbound and incoming online interactions more efficiently. They streamline and consolidate relevant conversations from different places—blogs, social networks and other public and private web communities and sites. They help you to more easily monitor what people are saying about your business. And automating the process of delivering outgoing messages through multiple social media outlets can help you to amplify your presence across several social media sites.

3.     Determine how you’ll make social information actionable and measure outcomes. Getting information into the hands of marketing and sales people, product managers, developers or inventory managers is critical. Businesses need to get the data in a way they can use it, say to run a marketing campaign, close deals or better manage inventory. Information and analysis tools should also be integrated with existing CRM, supply chain or other systems—instead of siloed—so business users can see results, adjust and improve.

4.     Make consistency a priority. Providing customers with a consistent experience across channels is key. Whether they want to buy online, via a mobile device or in a retail outlet, the goal is to provide the best user experience. This means you need to make it easy for users to shop and buy where and when they want. It also means giving your partners an easy on-ramp to sell and support your products. Provide partners with the capabilities they need so that your customers can have a universally exceptional experience, regardless of which channel they buy from.

This is the second of a six-part blog series by SMB Group and CRM Essentials that examines the evolution of the smarter customer and smarter commerce, and IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions. In our next post, we’ll talk to Ron Kline, director of marketing for IBM’s mid-market division, for an overview of IBM’s Smarter Commerce solutions for SMBs. In the meantime, please share with us the successes you’ve had and the challenges you face in adapting your business to better serve smarter customers.

Dell Boomi: A Microcosm of Dell’s New Virtual Era

After attending Dell World, Dell’s first ever user conference a couple of weeks ago, it’s apparent that Dell’s progression towards becoming a pivotal vendor in what it terms the “virtual era” is well underway. And, last week’s announcement of Dell Boomi’s Fall 2011 release provides a prime example of how Dell is crossing the chasm from a product-centric hardware vendor to a solutions and services provider.

Dell WorldThe Big Picture

For the past few years, many pundits have derided Dell as a one-trick pony. Sure, it totally disrupted the PC and then server markets with its direct model, and redefined operational efficiency in the hardware industry. But could it ever hope to compete in higher value, higher margin software and services businesses?

With Michael Dell back at the helm, the vendor began publicly charting its path to the virtual era in 2010 (see my March 2010 post Dell 2.0: Top Takeaways from Dell’s Virtual Era Event) and has been executing on this strategy via both organic growth and strategic acquisitions. Most of these acquisitions (Perot Systems as the exception) have been smaller companies with innovative products and high-growth rates.

To make the Virtual Era vision a reality, Dell has been executing on four key and inter-related objectives:

  • Moving from product to a solutions orientation. In the past, Dell’s identity has revolved around boxes—from PCs to servers to Streaks to big screen TVs. While Dell vociferously reiterated its ongoing commitment to the PC, it put the spotlight on its growing ability to provide businesses with end-to-end, heterogeneous solutions, not just piece parts—and to satisfy market demand for better, more cost-effective and easier to deploy, use and manage IT solutions.
  • Building out its cloud-cloud-cloud plan (my phrase). The shift to cloud computing—public, private and hybrid—features prominently in Dell’s solution equation. Dell’s sales team has been using Salesforce.com for a few years now, and is also a major user of Chatter and Radian6. Dell has become a cloud convert, and figures plenty of other companies will want to make this move too. Dell has invested $1 billion dollars to build and buy a cloud computing portfolio to help customers take advantage of cloud computing. Dell’s portfolio includes public cloud, private cloud and service solutions (such as Boomi, which I’ll get to in a minute!) so customers can move to the cloud and still leverage their existing IT investments. In Michael Dell’s words, Dell wants to “give them the bridge to the past and a path to the future.” One example is the new enhancements Dell has made to its Virtual Integrated System (VIS) Architecture, which helps extend virtualization benefits within a customers’ existing infrastructure.
  • Transforming from snubbing the channel to become a channel-friendly vendor. In the past, Dell’s most unique characteristic was its successful direct sales model. But, while that works fine for selling hardware, it won’t allow Dell to move up the solutions stack. Dell has recognized the important role that local partners play in creating value-added solutions that work with customers’ existing investments. It has been actively seeking partners that add solution value, and will have over 100,000 by the end of October.
  • Pioneering in social media. Dell has been breaking ground in using social media for input, dialogue and interactive marketing. After getting badly burned in the Dell Hell support crisis in 2005, Dell licked its wounds and has moved on to become a leader in building extensive social media capabilities to help it tune into customers and become a social media poster child. Dell just keeps raising the bar in social media, as evidenced by its Social Media Command Center.

Dell BoomiA  Microcosm of the Virtual Era

Dell’s latest release of Boomi highlights Dell’s execution on its Virtual Era strategy.  Boomi, which Dell acquired in 2010, is an 11-year old integration company that has been steadily moving to expand its cloud integration services. Boomi’s cloud integration service helps companies more efficiently and affordably integrate cloud and on-premise applications—across different locations, networks, clouds and companies (see Dell and Boomi: Doubling Down on Integration for more details).

Boomi’s approach features a cloud-based integration hub that provides customers with integration as an online service. With Boomi, companies can integrate different cloud and on-premise applications across geographically dispersed locations. Boomi’s visual interface relieves customers from complex code-writing and scripting.

With this release, Boomi has added several new capabilities that correspond directly to Dell’s broader overall Virtual Era vision, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Boomi Fall 2011 Release and How it Highlights Dell’s Virtual Era Themes

Source: SMB Group 2011 (click image to enlarge)

Quick Take

Dell is moving beyond its direct, hardware-centric comfort zone and making good progress on its Virtual Era strategy, as exemplified by Boomi. Serendipitously for Dell, HP has been pre-occupied with and increasingly defined by PC unit flip-flopping and a game of CEO musical chairs. HP’s diversions not only help boost Dell’s current client and server opportunities, but also give Dell more running room to move ahead with its long-term strategy.

While some out there may still view Dell as one-trick pony, I see ample evidence that Dell is well positioned to succeed in its next race.