IBM adds to SMB offerings

With revenues from enterprises stagnant or decreasing, vendors are quickly turning to the small- to medium-sized business (SMBs) services sector to make a profit. However, while money might be the motive, the results spell good things for SMBs, one industry analyst noted.

Michael Hyjek, analyst, Canadian customer segments, at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said SMBs are cash-strapped in the IT department and are looking for other ways to manage their technology. Additionally, IDC sees services as the growth area of the SMB market compared with hardware and software over the next five years.

IBM Corp. is one company making inroads into the SMB market. It has expanded its offerings by adding desktop management services to its portfolio of SMB services, starting at $55 per user, the company announced this week.

At the onset of services Big Blue will install a central, remotely-managed server at the customer’s site, which enables IBM to remotely install patch updates, software updates as well as monitor the network 24×7, plus scan and detect viruses. IBM will also filter out junk mail as well as update virus definitions and scan outgoing mail. Additionally, customers will have access to 24×7 online help-desk services.

The desktop management services also let customers manage their inventory of desktops and printers to guard against theft. Plus, IBM will automatically back-up data for its clients’ desktops and can support a multi-vendor hardware environment. In in the platform department, however, the services are only available for Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 2000 and XP desktops.

“In essence IBM is trying to be able offer more to SMBs than they would be able to afford,” IDC’s Hyjek said. “It’s an innovative step to give SMBs more security and support. So it simplifies things for SMBs [which are] very time-challenged and don’t necessarily have the resources to look after and maintain the network at that level.” IDC made these discoveries by interviewing over 900 SMBs towards the end of 2003.

If a vendor can help out SMBs by freeing up their IT director’s time to focus on different projects then that would be viewed as positive by the SMB market, Hyjek said. Additionally, Hyjek thinks the pricing structure IBM is offering will be looked upon favourably by SMBs.

Even though IDC found that services adoption is still fairly low in the SMB market at the moment, SMBs are coming to grips with the fact that services could potentially help their companies, Hyjek said, and numerous vendors have been jumping on the bandwagon including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.

“In general the vendors have got the message that if they create SMB-specific solutions, instead of trying to force-feed them an enterprise solution, SMBs will be more likely to adopt it,” Hyjek said.

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