IBM Global Services has designed a new set of services specifically for small and medium-size businesses that need help managing their desktop PCs and printers.
The new suite, called IBM Desktop Management Services, has gone on sale in the US with pricing starting at US$40 per seat per month.
A localised version of the services offering will be available in Australia soon, according to an IBM spokesperson.
The US offering includes services delivered remotely by IBM via the Internet through servers loaded with desktop management software that IBM places at the clients' sites,
IBM was still finalising its Australian service offering, but it would probably be aimed more at midmarket businesses, a spokesperson said. “I’m not sure on the timing, but it won’t be months away,” she said.
IBM’s suite of services would enhance and reduce the cost of companies' desktop management, while freeing up in-house IT staffers to do more sophisticated work, manager of International Desktop Services at IBM Global Services, Dale Moegling, said.
"This is intended to be complementary to the work of in-house IT folks," he said.
Moegling gave the hypothetical example of a hospital, where the internal IT staffers would be able to devote more time to hospital applications, while IBM would provide the day-to-day management of desktops, such as virus-definition updates and network monitoring.
"Our offering is for more traditional, mechanical support services," he said.
Only PCs running Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Windows XP could be serviced by IBM, Moegling said.
Other desktop operating systems, such as those based on Linux, aren't supported.
"This suite of services is interesting because it is fairly comprehensive and addresses buckets of different areas that are of concern to SMBs [small and medium-size businesses]," a Summit Strategies analyst, John Madden, said. "It hits all the pain points."
The suite shows that IBM effectively adapted services and methods it had provided to large companies and repackaged them for SMBs in a way that was affordable and simpler, he said.
Now IBM needed to continue making its case to SMBs, which might not, until now, have considered IBM a services provider they could afford, Madden said.
"These SMB folks may be wondering why IBM would want their business," he said. 'IBM needs to convince them that not only does it want their business, but that it will go out of its way to get it. IBM needs to keep focused on making itself attractive to them."
IBM's initiative was yet another indication of the rising importance of SMBs for large IT services providers, which sawa growth area in this segment of the market, Madden said.
Other IBM IT services competitors focusing on catering to SMBs included HP, Electronic Data Systems and Dell, he said.
But large services organisations wouldn’t be able to service true small business without using channel partners, Smith, managing director of WA-based reseller ComputerCorp, Hugh Smith, said.
He did not see IBM’s proposed service offering as a competitive threat in the SMB sector.
“IBM’s definition of a small business is up to a thousand seats,” Smith said.
It wouldn’t be viable for larger services firms like IBM Global Services to reach into the true small business, leaving the door open for channel partner opportunity, he said.
“We’re finding some of the larger outsourcers are engaging partners like us,” Smith said.
ComputerCorp had been picking up business in the small business sector by partnering with big services firms including IBM Global Services and EDS, he said.
Madden said two factors were fuelling the IT services growth in the SMB segment: one was an increase in demand from SMBs themselves for IT services, and the other was a newfound interest from large IT services providers in this traditionally underserved market.
"The growth has to come from somewhere, and large IT services providers are looking to the mid-market for it," Madden said. "SMB clients will feel particularly well-catered to in the coming years."
Key IBM rival, HP, would have a similar service offering for the SMB market, according to Cyrus Pestonji, business development manager for SMB, HP Services.
While the feature set was still being finalised, Pestonji said the vendor was aiming for a more holistic small business solution, emcompassing voice, networking and internet infrastructure.
Previously HP had offered more discrete, standalone solutions, such as system management or security.
“We’re developing a solution which is looking at an SMB’s total business, more than just their IT problems," Pestonji said.
Like IBM, HP’s offering will include backup and virus protection, both key SMB requirements.
HP Australia classified small business as up to 500 seats, and the forthcoming solution would scale as low as 50 seats, Pestonji said. HP’s involvement of partners through its Authorised Service Delivery Program was crucial for both sale and fulfillment into the SMB market, he said.