ANALYSIS: IBM's e-Business -- No Need for Smoke and Mirrors

By Sam Albert

Is IBM really in e-business? Of course it is, but its advertisements, while creative and compelling, just don't tell the whole story.

Listen to this: IBM has some 10,000 e-business engagements, about 1,200 Web hosting clients and 10,000 practitioners with wide-ranging skills in e-business technology. They also operate 141 data centers and five Universal Server Farms around the world.

These are the kinds of accomplishments that truly solidify IBM's role as a serious competitor. Big Blue is doing so much more than maintaining a status quo in an increasingly crowded market. But how would you and I know that? IBM, tell us --and even more importantly-- show us where you are.

I don't want to downplay image enhancing, and I don't want to knock the tremendous creativity of advertisements and commercials I see. These ads establish the brand. But aggressive marketing has, and always will, play a key role in IBM's success as the leader in e-business. Now it's time to move from brand enhancement to marketing and sales. And with IBM once again standing on secure financial footing, the time has never been better.

In my view, IBM has earned all the visibility it can muster. Look at some of its recent advances in e-business technologies, like enhanced security, its new Start Now program and a new legacy-enabling Application Framework.

IBM has devoted extensive R&D into becoming the world's largest leading e-business security provider, engaging in privacy consulting and market-leading business recovery services. I continue to hear that security remains one of the biggest barriers for companies that would otherwise embrace e-commerce. So, it’s clear IBM is on the right track there. But again, its time to hear more about it.

In early March, IBM announced plans to deliver its Start Now program across multiple platforms (AIX, Solaris, Windows NT) to its business partners. Start Now delivers "total solutions" for e-business users -- hardware, software and business partner services. The business partners, in turn, are better equipped to meet the needs of that growing, yet still too elusive market -- the small and medium business segment.

Lastly, IBM has created an Application Framework for e-business that helps customers transform legacy systems into e-business capable ones. It helps move those legacy systems to the "bleeding edge", if you will, in business enabled technology. Not by throwing them away as yesterday's scrap and starting over, but by providing a glue between the existing data and the Internet.

IBM has successfully been DOING e-business. Its next challenge is to BECOME the e-business provider. That takes a leap in philosophy, outlook and tactical approach. It requires helping customers make the web as integral a part of their core business as the electric typewriter was 25 years ago. For IBM, in particular, that goal is entirely possible.

There really is substance behind the image, and behind those big advertising dollars, and you will be seeing more and more signs of it in the future. The good news behind all this is that Big Blue is coming around and is not afraid to show its customers -- and the world -- what it can do.

IBM customers are rapidly becoming IBM e-business customers. That is really the direction they must go in order to survive -- and be recognized as a player -- in this web explosion that continues to happen before our eyes. Customers have to think integration; melding web technology with core business processes like supply chain management, customer relationship management, business intelligence and business integration.

Is IBM sailing past its traditional "e-commerce" competitors that provide colorful Web sites and basic transaction capabilities? As outlined above, I submit that they are! Execution is the name of the game today (and that's what needs to be communicated.) IBM, we're all watching!

Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a consulting firm that specializes in developing strategic corporate relationships.

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