A Look at IBM’s Small Business Cloud

IBM believes the world needs to get smaller and smarter, and the way to achieve both goals is for small businesses to embrace cloud computing.

For years, the century-old computer giant has promoted “solutions for a small planet.” Now it’s pushing solutions for “the smarter planet.” Whatever the tag line, the company says that cloud-based solutions from IBM can help small businesses grow faster and succeed bigger.  

IBM offers applications and services in almost every nook and cranny of computing, from ecommerce to collaboration to customer relationship management (CRM) — provided either directly or through partner ISVs (independent software vendors).

“It’s really smaller businesses that are driving most of the innovation we see in the world today,” says Ed Abrams, vice president of marketing for small business and midmarket at IBM. “That’s why we’re so committed to enabling their success.”

To demonstrate how it’s making good on that commitment, IBM recently announced two compelling but very different small business cloud-success stories that exemplify the smaller-and-smarter philosophy.

LotusLive: Online Collaboration

Russell’s Convenience, a chain of 24 convenience stores in the western U.S. (mostly in office buildings), started using LotusLive, IBM’s collaboration suite, 19 months ago. According to Raymond Huff, the company’s president, Russell’s Convenience has seen a 40 percent reduction in business travel costs as a result.

“Everybody hears the same message at the same time now,” Huff says of the weekly meetings he conducts online with managers and licensees at the chain’s stores.  

With stores in Colorado, California and Hawaii, Russell’s had long been plagued by communications problems related to time zone differences — up to four hours — and the inefficiencies of phone and email. Huff often had to travel to meet with his people to make sure everybody was on the same page.

“Now, when the guy in LA gets it, the guy in San Francisco gets it too,” he says. “It actually makes us a smaller organization. The communication is a lot more efficient, and I’m very pleased with the increase in productivity.”

Collaboration tools like those in the LotusLive suite and in ecommerce solutions such as Smarter Commerce may be naturals for the cloud, but it’s surprising how many applications and services can be and now are being delivered online, including even small business accounting.

Refining Small Business Collaboration

Russell’s can’t as readily monetize the benefits of using IBM cloud-based solutions, but its use of LotusLive has delivered tangible benefits, Huff says. Managing store remodeling projects, for example, was always a major headache until he implemented LotusLive.

Remodeling projects involve liaising with a store manager or licensee, landlord, architect, contractor, suppliers — each one a separate activity in the past, involving emails, phone calls and courier shipments to exchange documents, drawings and instructions.

Now he can add all the participants to LotusLive — the service allows him to add outsiders as temporary guest accounts without paying for additional licenses. All the documents, drawings and schedules reside in one place online, and all the communication happens there too, including online meetings if needed.

“It’s pretty seamless now, and it’s one activity versus 85 different activities,” Huff says.

Version control on documents passed back and forth used to be a problem in particular. Project participants would get confused about which was the latest or which was the final version. LotusLive keeps track of all versions, showing order, status and date completed.

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