Looking to differentiate itself from the plethora of personal computer brands in the market, IBM's PC division is to re-brand its offerings under the Think brand.
The marketing exercise will see IBM's notebook line remain under the ThinkPad banner; IBM's personal computer (the NetVista line) re-branded in 2003 as the ThinkCentre; its monitor range renamed ThinkVision; and its PC-centric software called ThinkVantage.
The reason for the change, according to marketing executive Michael Nash, is to highlight the hardware and software innovations IBM brings to market that its competitors tend to leave to third parties in order to be more competitive on price. "It is a signal of our value proposition to customers," he said.
During the last 10 years, Nash said, the focus of the PC industry has been on the "efficient delivery of a box". Factors such as lower prices, faster delivery times, faster processors, better componentry and the ability to customise or buy the product built-to-order have been the differentiating factors between PC brands. IBM believes that in today's more mature market, customers simply want to buy a solution to a problem, not a faster box.
"For too long, vendors have been competing on the acquisition part of the equation -- competing on price and specs," Nash said. "What is more important to customers is managing infrastructure, which might be up to tens of thousands of PCs."
IBM's goal is to create a PC environment that is increasingly self-optimising, self-configuring, self-protecting and self-healing. The vendor cited research of end users that suggests buying a personal computer is only 20 per cent of the total cost. "The other 80 per cent of costs come after you take delivery of it," Nash said.
The vendor is thus attempting to differentiate itself through hardware and software innovations that aid the management of the PC.
Such hardware innovations include more efficient positioning of wireless antennas in LCD screens or shock absorbers attached to hard drives in its ThinkPad notebooks, Nash said.
Recent advancements in software include self-configuration tools such as IBM's Image UltraBuilder, which allows IT managers to set up a "super-image" for a fleet of PCs that covers multiple platforms and applications. Self-healing tools include IBM's Rapid Restore PC, a software program that sees a PC's applications and data backed up in a hidden partition on the computer, and enables users to re-install the system to its last saved image should the hard drive fail.
Some of this software, such as Rapid Restore PC, comes standard in the price of an IBM PC. Others, such as enhanced security features, only come standard on premium models. PC management tools such as IBM's Image UltraBuilder, part of the ThinkVision line, are standalone applications for purchase from IBM resellers.
"This is our opportunity to explain the difference between buying IBM and buying any other box," Nash said. "It's not about the box, but what I can do with it to make life easier. Anyone can sell computers, but not everyone can sell computing."
Nash denies, however, that the re-branding is also an admission that IBM has given up the race to compete on price, customisation and delivery efficiencies, which have been perfected by the likes of Dell and various white-box manufacturers.
"Dell provided us with insight into the efficiency of logistics -- they set a standard for the whole industry. At IBM we also looked at the supply chain logistics end to end. We outsourced manufacturing to lower costs. We improved the efficiency of our delivery and worked lead times down to five and 10 days," Nash said.
"There will always be an opportunity for refinement in supply chain logistics," he continued. "But most of the hard work has already been done."
"It is still our intention to be competitive on price," said David Nicol, IBM's brand manager for ThinkPad. "We would just like our customers to see us as their preferred vendor for other values other than just price and delivery."