IBM's Newest Move Brings Simplicity to the Desktop

Following a less than spectacular first quarter (although less of a loss than previous results), IBM's Personal Systems Group (PSG) has been busy re-engineering itself in a few key ways: simplifying its product lines for customers, aggressively pursuing sales on the net (IBM.com) and bringing an array of new, more advanced manageability tools to the commercial PC desktop.

I believe we're seeing the start of a new PSG—part of what IBM calls its Edge of Network (EoN) initiative to simplify customers' computing experiences and provide "new ways to connect."

Along those lines, in late June PSG made greater inroads in the "business desktop" segment by announcing the NetVista A Series, designed to handle the needs of large enterprise businesses. IBM is supporting this launch with a $100 million global marketing and advertising campaign.

The new NetVista line brings sleek new design to the desktop. IBM stresses over and over its intent to simplify. As Harry Nicol, general manager, IBM Desktop Systems says, "Making them easier to use was the real challenge."

Already, IBM has a strong customer testimonial in electronics retailer Best Buy, which signed on to buy 12,000 NetVista A40s for its remotely managed, interactive customer demos for its network of 400 stores nationwide.

Some of the NetVista A Series models are small, slim form-factor desktops built on the Intel Pentium III processor. Designed to free up desk space, they feature hinged "cages" that simplify the removal and replacement of floppy drives, hard drives and CD-ROMs. IBM also added Access IBM keys to provide rapid access to help, service and support. (IBM appears to now go beyond the ordinary into the realm of the extraordinary.)

IBM says the NetVista brand is not meant to replace its other desktop brands—the PC 300 and Aptiva brand PC—but to supplement them. IBM believes it can support all three, at least for now. As we move into 2001, we will likely see more resources being moved to the NetVista line.

Bob Sutherland, an analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., says the NetVista A20, A40 and A40p models reflect IBM's commitment to "deliver increased value." These developments certainly show that IBM is taking the commercial desktop PC market—and its possibilities for future growth—quite seriously.

PSG's continued emphasis on manageability is a basic need and clearly a part of that growth. In 1999, the IBM PC 300PL was the first personal computer with an embedded security chip as a means for businesses to protect their computer resources from hackers or other security threats. IBM also pioneered features such as Wake on LAN with the IBM PC 300 GL and PL series. Now, these latest NetVista announcements bring such management capabilities to the desktop PC.

The A Series rounds out a portfolio of products that includes the NetVista X, S and N series. Yet, there's more to come, and soon. IBM believes the second half of 2000 will bring significant growth, thanks in part to new chip technologies, new operating systems, and the continued growth of e-business and e-commerce. So look for more NetVista product introductions in the months, not years, ahead.

Already, NetVista A series sales are reportedly going strong; their design, simplicity and function are catching the industry's eye. Both the all-in-one and legacy-free NetVista computers are beating projected sales volumes.

Yet IBM still fields questions about its commitment to the PC, following a difficult, post-Y2K first quarter. So here's clear evidence of that commitment—PSG is making the largest product introduction in its history this year. A full 90 percent of its products will be new by this year's fourth quarter.

And IBM is working to build new energy into the PSG sales channel, by adding programs such as PartnerChoice for business partners and value-added resellers.

Based on the above, providing personal systems for the long term is a business IBM is in to win, and it's working hard to do just that. And it's recognizing customer choice. This is only an opening salvo; but IBM appears to be ready and anxious for the challenge and the future!

Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a consulting firm specializing in building strategic corporate relationships. samalbert@samalbert.com