Drinking From the Dreamforce Fire Hose: Part 1, The Big Picture

Dreamforce, like Salesforce.com’s ambitions, just keeps getting bigger. This year’s event in San Francisco claimed 90,000 registered attendees and 250 media, analysts and bloggers. The pageantry surrounding the event—from MC Hammer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and from Tony Robbins to Colin Powell—is also on the rise, seemingly in direct proportion to Salesforce’s enterprise ambitions. Anyway, with so much erupting from Mt. Salesforce, I need to write a two-part blog post. This first post covers the Salesforce.com’s vision and announcements, and my perspective on them. The second post, which will be up in a few days, will cover how Salesforce’s ever-expanding ambitions translate and apply to small and medium businesses (SMBs).

The Big Picture

CEO Marc Benioff’s keynote featured the success stories from marquee customers, including Activision, Burberry, Coca Cola, Commonwealth Bank, GE, Virgin Atlantic and Rossignol. Through these customer vignettes, announcements, demos and, interestingly, IBM’s 2012 CMO Study, Salesforce made its case for enterprises to buy into its version of the social enterprise. While Salesforce isn’t the first vendor to come up with any of the ideas put forward, Benioff and team continue to aggressively extend the Salesforce footprint along cloud, social, and platform themes, and its push beyond CRM into other functional areas. A drink from the fire hose includes a slew of new directions and offerings. A few are available now, but most are slated for general availability later in 2012 or in 2013. They include:

  • Added social selling capabilities. Salesforce Touch and Data.com Social Keyadd new social and mobile oomph for sales people. Salesforce Touch puts Salesforce on any mobile device, giving reps anytime, anywhere mobile capabilities. Salesforce Data.com Social Key integrates data from social networks with company data to provide companies with a more comprehensive view of their customers.
  • Social marketing. Salesforce Marketing Cloud brings social listening, content, engagement, advertising, workflow, automation and measurement into one place through the combined technologies of (recent acquisitions) Buddy Media and Radian6.
  • Platform Push. Salesforce announced Salesforce Identity, touting it as the “Facebook for the Enterprise.” It will provide a single, social, trusted identity service to manage multiple apps and includes single sign-on across apps; social identity to enable Chatter to push information from multiple apps to a user in one feed; and centralized identity and access management to make it easier for administrators to provision and manage users across applications.
  • Work.com: Rypple is now Work.com, and Salesforce is positioning it as a social performance platform to manage performance reviews and provide recognition, rewards and feedback to employees.

As important, in just a few years, Salesforce AppExchange has grown to become a mature ecosystem for developers. Over 350 partners attended Dreamforce 2012, and Force.com development partners such as FinancialForce, BMC Remedyforce and Xactly Express are enjoying a great growth ramp on Salesforce’s coattails. In the analyst Q&A, Benioff explained that Salesforce is trying hard to move from geek speak to talk and walk like the new breed of IT customer, the CMO. In both the keynote and the Q&A, he reiterated that IT spending will increasingly shift from IT to CMOs. He also underscored that Facebook has become the most popular app on the planet because it is so intuitive, and his belief that all business apps will eventually need a Facebook-like activity stream because that is the interface users know and will demand.


Really, what could play better into Salesforce’s hands as it tries to expand its enterprise footprint against stalwart ERP vendors? Larger enterprises have pretty much taken care of business in the back office. And smaller companies top priorities most often center on revenue growth and customer acquisition. With a CMO-centric view of the world, Benioff & co. can position Salesforce as chief mentor and leader in the next wave of IT innovation—in the front office, collaboration and user interface arenas. For example, I think that Benioff is spot on with his statement that all business apps will need a Facebook-style feed interface to take the friction out of using them and facilitate user adoption. Meanwhile, compelling customer success stories and strong partner growth underscore that Salesforce is ready to take its game to the next level. Unlike some of its competitors, Salesforce also has social in its DNA from the top down, which should prove to be an enormous advantage. However, rivals are not going to yield turf easily. In fact, it’s ironic that, in addition to helping to fuel Benioff’s agenda with its CMO research, IBM already walking much of the Salesforce talk. IBM coined the “social business” term before Benioff coined “social enterprise,” and many of the solutions that are in the works at Salesforce bear a close resemblance to IBM solutions such as IBM Connections, Smarter Commerce and SmartCloud—all of which are available now. Meanwhile, many of Salesforce’s newly announced offerings won’t be ready for several months or more–and are somewhat lightweight compared to comparable offerings from the competition. But sometimes, lightweight is better. Some apps are so clogged with feature bloat that they actually hinder getting work done instead of enabling it. And, I’ve said many times, Benioff is a marketing genius. He has an uncanny knack for winning by articulating a new value proposition better than anyone else in the industry. While he may need to play catch up in terms of getting his solutions to market, it’s likely that his messages will be the first to come through loud and clear in many corporate boardrooms.

IBM’s Managed Service Provider Initiatives for Midmarket: An Interview with Mike McClurg

Here’s an edited transcript of my interview with Mike McClurg, VP of Global Midmarket Sales for IBM. [If you’d like to listen to the recorded podcast, click on the orange circle below].

Laurie: Mike, thanks so much for joining us today. Before we dive into our conversation about IBM’s strategy and programs for managed service providers (MSPs), can you give us a big picture view of IBM’s midmarket strategy?

Mike: Sure. In IBM, we typically classify midmarket accounts as firms with 1000 or fewer employees. Our midmarket initiative is global, and midmarket is one of our fastest growing segments, including growth markets, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and Eastern Europe. We’re seeing real expansion of the midmarket and SMB client base in those geographies as they build out their infrastructure. We’re also seeing nice growth in traditional major markets.

Our products and services range from servers and storage that SMBs use to build their infrastructure, to business analytics tools such as IBM SPSS software and IBM Cognos software which are very popular to help create smarter approaches to manage data and knowledge. We also provide cloud capabilities and management and administrative services, to name a couple of the services we offer.

Trends show that midmarket customers are moving into some of IBM’s core strength areas—for instance, outsourcing through MSPs, business analytics and big data in the services area. So it’s an exciting time for us with the midmarket business.

Laurie: Can you tell us a bit about your background, Mike?

Mike: I have been with IBM for four years. I came from XIV, a storage company that IBM acquired in 2008. Prior to that, I ran channel and SMB businesses for EMC and Sun Microsystems. I’m fairly new in terms of my IBM tenure, but have long experience with the channel and SMBs.

Laurie: Thanks. So, turning to IBM’s MSP initiative, how do MSPs fit into the picture for IBM?

Mike: We look at it from a customer demand perspective. We see more interest from midmarket customers to leverage outsourced solutions. It is very appealing for them to roll out a new application and leverage standard solutions without expanding their IT organizations or building a lot of infrastructure. MSPs can help them do it quicker and with less upfront investment and risk. So outsourcing and MSPs are key trends.

Laurie: There are so many areas in which technology is evolving so quickly—cloud, and mobile, social, and analytics. Even if SMBs want to do some of this in-house, the pace of change is so rapid that they can’t get new solutions in place quickly enough with only in-house resources.

Mike: That is exactly right. Their IT organizations are working 9 to 6 five days a week, so it’s great to have a business partner that can provide a mission-critical applications such as email with a 24/7 service level. And they can leverage cloud capabilities for security monitoring.

Another benefit is that an MSP sees millions of intrusion detections a day, and can do statistical analysis to understand where the next one is likely to come from. That’s a level of sophistication that a midsized firm probably doesn’t have. But they can leverage that from an MSP partner.

Laurie: So MSPs can provide not only economies of scale, but economies of skill because of experience. But the MSP area can be very blurry, with a lot of definitions and overlap between MSPs and other partners like VARs or solution providers. How does IBM define MSP, and what type provides the best synergy with IBM?

Mike: We look at it from a few different perspectives. First, there is the traditional non-cloud MSP, which is what folks typically think of when they talk about an MSP: They provide network system management outsourced infrastructure management.

But we’re seeing real growth among cloud service providers, who fit into three categories: infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and software as a service. The best way to think of it is how much does that service provider provide as an outsource service to the end-user customer?

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers are traditional MSPs that provide servers, storage and management capabilities such as security and backup.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS) providers provide infrastructure plus a development runtime environment.
  • Software as a service (SaaS) providers manage everything, including your application and data, for you.

IBM has programs for each type. IaaS MSPs are great partners for our Tivoli management tools, servers, storage and endpoint management tools for mobile applications. PaaS providers also use solutions such as Cognos, an analytics tool, SPSS and Rational development tools. SaaS providers may work with IBM partners who have built on IBM infrastructure or the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise.

Laurie: Several major IT vendors are courting MSPs. What differentiates IBM?

Mike: When we talk to MSPs, their needs focus on two areas. One is they’re looking for a full offering. Can I buy a platform, management tools, platform development tools and services? IBM has a really strong story to tell up and down the whole continuum of offerings—not only the products, but also the services.

We tune our offerings so that an MSP can plug-in anywhere. If they need a platform, we’ve got that. If they’re developing a vertical service that they’re rolling out and they would like to offer a managed backup or a managed security service as part of that, we have it and it’s available, priced and configured so that they can integrate it into their solution and sell it to their end-user customers. We’ve got a lot of flexible offerings and capabilities to address their needs.

Laurie: It sounds almost like they can get as many of the LEGO pieces as they want.

Mike: That’s the way we like to think of it. You define what your business is, and IBM will plug-in the areas that are not core to you or where you could use some help. If it’s another service that augments the business that you’re in, then that’s the way we’d like to work with you.

The other thing that’s really exciting is that IBM is very focused on how do we build a business relationship with an MSP? What do we do for joint marketing to drive demand for their services? We both have an interest in them being successful because the more they sell, the more they consume the technology we provide to them.

We focus on their people and capabilities, leveraging our background and business partner experience. We’ve done a lot in the last three years to assist with marketing support for our business partners to help them go to market as opposed to us just handing them a lead. We’re much more efficient if we put more money and investment and skills in their hands, supported with marketing investments and some other services that we can provide to them.

Sure, we’re a technology provider, we’ll hit all of your needs there, but we’re really focused on the business relationship and how we provide you the marketing support to drive demand, and how you can leverage the IBM brand and logo in the marketplace.

Laurie: What is the traction like with IBM for MSPs so far?

Mike: Explosive growth. We’ve gone from a couple hundred of MSPs to 1400 globally in just a few months since we’ve focused on bringing our message to them. We’ve kept it kind of a quiet secret; but since we’ve been starting to drive the discussion with partners, it’s starting to expand very rapidly.

Laurie: What are the best opportunities for MSPs in the midmarket to work with IBM on, if you had to pick a couple of sweet spots?

Mike: Most of our business today comes from the IaaS providers—the traditional hosters that are building out infrastructure. In major markets, they’re looking at systems like IBM PureSystems, which is an advanced fully functional platform. In growth markets, they’re saying come in and help us with our data center strategy and how we should build out these data centers.

But the other two areas, PaaS and SaaS, are ones that we’re really seeing explosive growth in. In PaaS, we’ve got partners developing environments based on IBM Rational software and IBM Cognos software, and some SaaS partners are using IBM SmartCloud Enterprise and Cognos tools. All three are great areas, and we’ve got a good story to tell for all of them.

Laurie: Can you give me an example of a specific MSP that’s really taken the bull by the horns and done a great job?

Mike: Yes. I’ll talk about one from Austria, a company called Pitagora. They developed a CFO dashboard around SmartCloud Enterprise in Cognos, which they host in our environment. They had been a traditional IBM Business Partner, so this was a great way for them to add significant value and launch a whole new services arm based on Cognos and their expertise in business analytics.

Laurie: What should an MSP know about the programmatic aspects of working with IBM?

Mike: Where to get information. Go to IBM PartnerWorld – Managed Service Providers, which is part of IBM’s global partner program. We’ve got information about the top offerings, depending on the type of business partner or service provider you are, and what would be the right way to engage with us from an offering perspective and from a business development perspective.

There’s a form you can fill out there, and we’ve got a business development team to understand your business and help you map IBM’s resources to your business. We’ve got folks that are really smart about this business. All they do is work with service providers to understand their needs and how to bring the full force of IBM to help them.

Laurie: How is the business model structured?

Mike: We’ve made it a lot easier to register, and the business development executive we assign will stay on and work with the MSP partner. Our business motto is that the partner will have an assigned person not just for the sign-up phase, but also once we’ve both decided this is the right partnership, getting those first few customers and starting to scale the business.

Laurie: Mike, I just have one more question to ask. What would be the most important takeaway you would want an MSP to have in terms of how they view IBM?

Mike: You know, it’s funny. I think when we have that conversation with MSPs, generally we’re not the first name that they think of in this space. But our team is focused on being an active participant in this marketplace. We’ve been listening, and what we’re hearing is that MSPs need a full set of offerings and somebody that really views this as a partnership and is willing to invest upfront in developing the business jointly.

Our key message to MSPs is that we are very interested in this business and in working with you. We’ve got a lot of very exciting things to offer, and there is a lot of leverage and benefit from being affiliated with IBM—so we would absolutely love to talk to them. The next step would be to take a look at IBM PartnerWorld – Managed Service Providers and get the ball rolling, and we’ll follow back up with them. We’re very committed to this business, and we would love to talk to them.

This is the second of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology solutions and IBM’s Managed Service Provider Channel programs. In the next post, we’ll look at the opportunities and challenges from an MSP perspective.

The Technology—Performance Connection for Midmarket Businesses

In today’s always-on, hyper-connected world, technology has become a critical lynchpin for business success. Increasingly, businesses of all sizes view technology as an essential to improving customer engagement, raising employee productivity, and creating innovation and differentiation—all vital ingredients for building economic value.

You don’t need to take my word for it. For the first time since IBM began conducting its Global CEO Study eight years ago, study respondents identified technology as “the most important external force impacting their organization” in the most recent 2012 IBM study.

It looks like these respondents are right. In the SMB Group’s 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, we identified a distinct category of midmarket companies that we’ve termed “Progressive SMBs.” Despite or perhaps because of economic uncertainties, Progressive SMBs invest more in technology and have higher revenue expectations than peers whose tech investments are flat or declining.  For instance, 73% of midmarket companies (medium businesses with 100 – 999 employees) that plan to invest more in technology anticipate revenue increases in 2012, compared to just 17% among those planning to decrease IT spending. Progressive SMBs view technology as a vital tool for business transformation, a mechanism to create market advantage, and a way to level the playing field against bigger companies.

Figure 1: Increased IT Investments Pay Off For Midmarket Businesses

As a result, Progressive midmarket companies can leverage key technology trends to fuel better business returns. As they do, they make the case for the value of these technologies, and in turn, will spark broader adoption across the midmarket spectrum.

Cloud Computing and Virtualization Become the New Normal

The pace of technological change is in overdrive, and the requirement to harness technology-based solutions to gain market advantage is rising. As a result, demand for cloud-based solutions is accelerating (Figure 2).  The business application areas that show the strongest near-term potential for midmarket cloud growth are marketing automation, business intelligence/analytics, and collaboration.

Figure 2: Applications Moving to the Cloud

The promises of cloud computing—reduced capital costs, speed to deploy, real-time collaboration and data visibility—tap into key midmarket business needs and constraints. By offloading deployment, management and support to a cloud service provider, midmarket businesses can free up internal resources to focus on core business requirements. Users can reap the benefits of anytime, anywhere, any device access to applications. And, companies can achieve solution benefits more quickly than if they had to vet, buy, install and deploy a new solution in-house.

But that doesn’t mean everything will go to the public cloud; it will continue to be a hybrid world for a very long time. Many midmarket businesses will continue to choose on-premises apps as security, regulatory, customization or other needs dictate, but will turn to desktop and server virtualization solutions to gain benefits similar to the public cloud. With IT staffs stretched thin, midmarket businesses will turn to managed service providers (MSPs) to offload IT infrastructure planning, implementation and management more frequently.

Mobile Mania Accelerates

The growth of smart mobile devices and applications has been nothing short of spectacular. The SMB Group’s 2012 SMB Mobile Solutions Study shows that 81% of midmarket businesses already equip their employees with mobile devices and solutions–and the other 19% plan to do so within the next 12 months.

Midmarket businesses want to give employees more and better mobile solutions to boost productivity, streamline information access and improve customer service (Figure 3). With use of mobile collaboration apps (email, calendar, etc.) is already mainstream, these companies are now deploying customer relationship management, social media marketing, time management, and field service apps.

Figure 3: Top Drivers and Obstacles For Mobile Solutions

They are also ramping up external mobile application development to interact with customers, partners and suppliers. External-facing mobile apps in areas such as mobile marketing, payments, scheduling and customer service apps help businesses improve customer responsiveness, grow revenue and streamline service.

However, mobile apps also creates several challenges. With limited IT resources and mobile expertise, many midmarket businesses need outside help to ensure security, manage mobile applications and devices, and integrate new mobile apps with their existing business solutions.

The Social Imperative Grows

Social network-based technology has grown from curiosity to niche to new paradigm in a very short time, and is becoming indispensable to many midmarket businesses. According to our 2012 SMB Social Business Study, social media use among midmarket businesses increased to 63% in 2012–up from 52% in our 2011 study.

Use of social tools is already exceeding that of purpose-built software for functions such as to “connect with people who aren’t customers” “generate more web site traffic” “generate more/better interaction with customers/prospects” and “new employee recruitment,” as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Social Media Use Gaining Ground for Accomplishing Many Business Functions

But, while social media use is up, the percentage of midmarket businesses taking a planned, strategic approach has pretty much remain stuck. 51% of midmarket social media users still pretty much throwing the proverbial spaghetti on the Facebook wall—or into the Twitter stream. This is a critical distinction because strategic users are significantly more satisfied with the outcomes they get from their social efforts than counterparts with an ad hoc approach.

For instance:

  • 62% of strategic users, compared to 42% of informal users are very satisfied with social to “improve market awareness/reputation.”
  • 55% of strategic users, compared to 45% of informal users are very satisfied with social to help them “connect with people who aren’t customers.
  • 58% of strategic users, compared to 28% of informal users are very satisfied with social to help “generate more leads.”

As midmarket businesses invest more time and money into social efforts, the need to incorporate social into corporate planning in a more strategic way will increase. Midmarket businesses will need guidance to select the best tools for their requirements, train employees, integrate social with business solutions, monitoring social interaction, and measuring return on social initiatives.

Turning the Information Explosion into A Fountain of Wisdom

Many SMBs have plenty of data, but find it challenging to get the insights they need from it. The social-mobile-cloud triumvirate adds more fuel to the data explosion. In our 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, respondents cited “getting better insights from the data we already have” as a top technology challenge.

To plow through the growing data avalanche, businesses are beefing up their intelligence investments. 29% of midmarket businesses purchased/upgraded a BI solution within the past 24 months, and 28% plan to do so in the next 12 months. The need will only grow as midmarket companies integrate new customer and prospect data from social media into the information flow of existing business solutions to bring market and individual customer trends, requirements and behavioral patterns into sharper focus.

Getting the Job Done

The ability to strategically apply cloud, mobile, social and business intelligence solutions to their businesses will increasingly distinguish high-performance midmarket businesses from lesser perfuming counterparts. But with an average full-time IT staff of eight, most midmarket businesses simply don’t have the staff, expertise or budget for do-it-yourself IT in these areas. These IT shops have their hands full simply grappling with the day-to-day problems of their current IT environment.

However, these midmarket challenges offer managed service providers (MSPs) and other solution providers with ample opportunity to provide these businesses with a broader portfolio of automated, integrated managed services for both infrastructure and business application requirements, along with professional services guidance and training. In our next post, I’ll explore some of these opportunities in more detail.

This is the first of a five-part blog series by SMB Group that examines the evolution of midmarket business technology trends and IBM’s Managed Service Provider channel programs. In the next post, we’ll look at the opportunities and challenges these trends create for MSPs to serve midmarket businesses as they navigate to these solution areas.

Need a mobile business strategy? This is a good place to start!

Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

The phenomenal rise of mobile applications development and adoption creates both new opportunities and challenges for businesses. Is your business ready to reap the benefits of mobile solutions, or are you in danger of falling behind? Now, more than ever, SMEs need to develop a mobile business strategy to determine why to mobilize,  who to mobilize, what apps to use, and how to deploy and manage mobile solutions.

The SMB Group recently conducted extensive research to understand the who, what, where and why of how  SMEs are using mobile solutions in their businesses. This infographic distills some of the key findings from this research, and will help you to:

  •  Benchmark how your company stacks up compared to your business peers in the mobility space.
  • Gain perspective on both the benefits and challenges that medium businesses face when implementing mobile solutions—both for internal employees, and for external users such as customers…

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