Outsourcing via Midrange Express

Following the budget-conscious "express" services trend initiated in late 1997, IBM Global Services recently announced the availability of Midrange Express – packaged outsourcing services designed to facilitate the management, maintenance and support of AS/400 servers in the small and medium business (SMB) market.

In creating Midrange Express, Global Services standardizes its outsourcing services to sell an affordable, yet scalable, solution through IBM’s business partner channel. "Our overall strategy for small and medium-sized companies is to come up with standard services packages and offerings," affirms Scott Ferber, director of marketing for SMB services worldwide for Global Services.

Midrange Express sprang from Global Services’ belief that the SMB market is becoming more interested in outsourcing offerings. "We have offered outsourcing services for some time in the midrange marketplace, but we’ve done it on a customized basis," Ferber says.

The "express" in Midrange Express is intended to convey a sense of efficiency to the userbase. "The key to Midrange Express is packaging our capabilities into a standard offering so we can make it more accessible to small and medium-sized companies," Ferber says. "Midrange Express has been available in Australia and Canada for some time, and is now available in the United States, most of Europe, parts of Latin America and Asia Pacific."

Midrange Express was also designed to be scalable. In addition to the basic package, "snap-on" elements can be added to build up to a full-service outsourcing offering, according to Ferber. Base pricing for Midrange Express in the United States is $4,000 per month, "which will vary by geography," he says. Base-level services include systems monitoring, account management, help desk support and nightly backups. Optional services include: batch job management, disaster recovery, performance and capacity planning, system software upgrades, extended hours, user profile administration and security audit.

Global Services plans to follow the AS/400 version of Midrange Express with Unix and Windows NT editions during the first half of this year.

One analyst points out that pre-packaged outsourcing solutions are a sound option for companies. "One of the issues that will present itself going forward is server outsourcing," says Allie Young, principal analyst with DataQuest (Boston), a Gartner Group company. "It’s all relative to what the customer requires. Why pay for more customization if they don’t need it?"

Midrange Express is designed to relieve the day-to-day operation of the AS/400 for a company’s operational staff, "picking up where Protection Express leaves off," says Wayne Owens, global offering manager for Midrange Express. "We provide full outsourcing services for the AS/400, so it’s different from Protection Express, which is more of a monitoring of the hardware components of the AS/400."

Though Protection Express falls more in the category of packaged disaster recovery services, it shares the same spirit of efficiency, in both cost and implementation.

IBM’s Express model of services is being driven by a number of new technology implementations – such as e-commerce, supply chain management and other enterprise applications – that the middle market wants to utilize, according to Young. "Some of these newer business applications have these amazing demands for server capacity," she says. "As a result, there’s this kind of explosion of server technology in client sites, and maybe they don’t want to manage it."

While there are some cases where clients will still "absolutely need a highly-customized solution," particularly in heavily networked environments, Young points out that IBM’s early entry into the pre-packaged outsourcing market and the "plug-and-play" nature of the offering will contribute to Midrange Express’s success.