All Aboard the IBM ‘Express’

Middleware inherently requires middlemen to facilitate small- and medium-sized business deployments of integrated computing solutions. Just as journeymen once set signals on railroad tracks to secure a safe journey, so to IBM has set a new course for its business partners to follow.

More and more resellers, independent software vendors and systems integrators are climbing on board IBM’s ‘Express’ portfolio of goods and services as a way to arrive at their final destination — delivering advanced computing solutions to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Once a year IBM brings its diversified business partners together to review new programs and services available for resale to the SMB market. At the annual event held in Las Vegas this week, ‘Big Blue’ took the opportunity to deliver a variety of new enablement programs to thousands of its business partners that facilitate the deployment of on-demand computing solutions to the mid-market.

Earlier this year IBM announced its was restructuring its multiple business divisions around industry-specific computing solutions, rather than specific product lines and brands. Now the same type of structure will be reflected in IBM’s dealings with its business partners. The shift in focus means that IBM will invest $500 million in its Small and Medium Business Advantage initiative. The Small and Medium Business Advantage program provides lead generation, training and sales incentives for IBM’s business partners selling to the SMB space.

IBM’s investment is designed to deliver a comprehensive blueprint for its business partners that sell on-demand solutions, industry-by-industry, to small- and medium-sized businesses. Marc Lautenbach, IBM general manager of global small and medium business, said the company has made great strides in generating industry awareness of IBM’s SMB strategy and the Express portfolio over the past 18 months.

“We’re now moving rapidly from awareness to adoption by working closely with our business partner community to jointly develop new enablement capabilities that speed the design and implementation of industry-focused Express solutions,” Lautenbach said.

IBM business partners can also tap into the new “Solutions Builder Express” program. An extension of IBM’s Express products and services, first introduced last year, the new solution-building program includes enablement initiatives, resources and tools to help IBM’s business partners build and deploy industry-specific computing systems tailored to meet the unique technological needs of mid-market businesses. IBM and its business partners intend to help SMBs integrate, automate and transform their businesses through the IBM Express portfolio of products and services.

To meet increasing customer demand for IT solutions that address industry-specific business challenges, the Solutions Builder Express programs leverage a combination of IBM’s Express products that will enable partners to build unique, yet readily replicated, SMB solutions. Each solution consists of pre-defined customer scenarios delivered as “Solution Starting Points,” the core technical asset onto which business partners add customized programs and services.

Steve Hunn, Lightyear Consulting’s director of services and IBM business partner, said the program is a logical next step in the evolution of IBM’s channel enablement programs.

“As a partner, Solution Builder Express brings to bear a tangible roadmap for the Express portfolio and provides much-needed tools and assets required to develop solutions unique to not only our customer’s businesses but also their industry as well,” Hunn said.

Designed and tested jointly with business partners, Solution Starting Points are available across six areas — business integration, business intelligence, content management, e-commerce, infrastructure, and portal or workplace. In addition, each Solution Starting Point is designed to meet industry-specific SMB needs, which includes automotive, banking, electronics, finance, insurance, retail, wholesale and consumer goods.

Solution Starting Points feature detailed information on solution implementation and deployment, including solution architecture, hardware and software specifications, reusable installation and integration instructions and demo toolkits. The solutions all contain core IBM middleware technology from its five software brands — WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Lotus and Rational. The industry-specific middleware components may come from IBM, but it’s IBM’s thousands of local business partners that ultimately deliver industry-specific IT expertise to SMBs.

IBM Solutions Builder Express is the first in a series of Express channel enablement initiatives IBM will launch this year as part of its Small and Medium Business Advantage program. IBM business partners that are members of PartnerWorld for Software can access Solutions Builder Express assets through a number of PartnerWorld pathways, including membership in Value Advantage Plus, a worldwide initiative designed to provide value-based discounts to eligible business partners that sell solutions built to run on specific IBM middleware. Solutions Builder Express is also available via IBM’s Virtual Innovation Center and IBM Small and Medium Business Advantage portal.

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