IBM Widens the Express Lane

Wednesday May 12th 2004 by Dan Muse
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Big Blue followed a slew of recent Express Portfolio announcements by rolling out new ThinkPad, printing and training products and services aimed at small and mid-size businesses.

The last few weeks have been busy ones for Big Blue forces charged with capturing the small and mid-size business (SMB) market. In late April, it announced its desktop management services and its network resiliency and manageability services. Last week, IBM unveiled WebSphere Business Integration Server Express. And there's no letup in sight.

Today IBM announced it is expanding its Express Portfolio to include new ThinkPad models and that it is introducing new printing and education offerings. Unveiled last summer, Express is IBM's initiative created primarily to loosen Microsoft's hold on the SMB market.

IBM's newest Express offerings join a roster of about 60 products and services designed to help SMBs lower IT support costs, simplify system configuration and management, and improved employee productivity.

Express to Go
According to Tom Grimes, Personal Computing Division SMB Channel Enablement and Programs marketing manager, IBM sold more ThinkPad and ThinkCentre Express models in the first quarter of 2004 alone than it did in all of 2003.

To offer SMBs more ThinkPad options, IBM announced new Express models for the ThinkPad X40, which IBM describes as the thinnest and lightest ThinkPad ever. The other two models to move to the Express line are the ThinkPad R50e and R51 notebooks.

The notebooks also offer IBM ThinkVantage Technologies, Grimes said, which are designed to provide a set of tools to reduce lost productivity and support calls. For example, the Rescue and Recovery with Rapid Restore feature contains an emergency operating system that provides one-button relief from common PC problems, such as viruses or corrupted software files even if the main operating system will not boot.

Grimes emphasized that the notebooks are not scaled-down versions of other models. Prices start at $1,129 for the ThinkPad R50e. The R51 models start at $1,199 and ThinkPad X40 Express models start at $1,499,

"The goal of the Express line is provide a full end-to-end suite of easy-to-install, easy-to-manage solutions that offer increased productivity, which is especially critical for SMBs," Grimes said. "They have limited time, people and money. They need to maximize profits."

Three Printing Options
New to the Express line is the Infoprint Portfolio. Martin Vidaurre, Worldwide Printing Systems Division Global SMB marketing manager at IBM, describes Infoprint as a group of 20- to 40-page-per-minute printers and multifunction devices that include management software, hardware and maintenance. The printing Express product line is divided into three programs, according to Vidaurre.

  • IBM Infoprint Express includes both black and white and color models that feature connectivity options including wireless technology designed to simplify network printing and mobile communications.

  • IBM Infoprint Express Package for ERP is designed to offer distributed printing services to improve the flow of information to suppliers and customers by integrating with ERP applications from software vendors such SAP and Oracle as well as other supply-chain systems, Vidaurre said. He added that ERP Express product is particularly well-suited for industrial and manufacturing businesses.

  • IBM Infoprint Express Package for iSeries is designed to enable customers to produce business-critical information reliably and accurately through system-managed printing.

    What's hot with SMBs? Vidaurre said that IBM has seen a rise in the adoption of multifuntion devices by small businesses who want to consolidate coping, printing, document-sharing, scanning and faxing.

    Training is Everything
    "With new technology comes a commensurate need for training," said Gregory Schrubble, director of Global IT Education Services at IBM. The newly announced Express training services are available in three tiers ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 per year, he said. By moving the training record keeping to an online system, managing the process is easier for small business, Schrubble said. For example, the cost of a particular session is automatically deducted from a business' account, so it doesn't have to deal with coupons and other clutter, he said.

    The IBM Education Pack features access to classroom training, IBM technical conferences and e-learning offerings. More than 1,000 courses are available, according to IBM. However, Schrubbe said, "we've seen a groundswell in the interest in Linux." The reason small businesses are interested in Linux, he said, is its cost efficiency and the fact their competition is moving in that direction. "It's a mixed bag of people moving. Some from Windows, some from Unix, some maintaining multiple environments."

    Other popular training topics include WebSphere, Web services and other areas of middleware, Schrubble said. "They need to adapt to the supply-chain needs of customers and vendors. End-to-end Web services offer a high degree of flexibility."

    While SMBs may need sophisticated PCs, printing hardware and services, and training, IBM said it recognizes that cash flow is also an issue. Big Blue announces offers financing options across the portfolio of Express offerings.

    Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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