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Making the smarter planet a reality for midsize businesses

We hear a lot these days about how our planet is becoming smarter. But what exactly is a smarter planet, and what does it mean for midsize organizations? To try to answer these questions, ForwardView spoke with Ed Abrams, Vice President of Marketing for Midmarket at IBM. In his role, Ed works closely with IBM initiatives that help midsize clients benefit from the growing strengths of a smarter planet.

ForwardView: To begin, can you explain what the smarter planet is and why this is relevant for midsize companies?

Ed Abrams: A smarter planet is what is happening to the world that we all live in today. There is technology in everything that is out there. We are seeing that, with instrumentation and interconnectivity, much more intelligence is coming out of the world.

That's not something that's gated by customer size or by business size. The smallest businesses in the world and the largest businesses in the world can use information as a competitive weapon. And that's what we're seeing many, many times in companies like Moosejaw Mountaineering, a small retailer out of the West Coast who has created a new business model and expanded their customer set globally by using customer information to better provide their customers with the products and services they're looking for.

ForwardView: It sounds like one of the advantages of the smarter planet is that it levels the playing field.

Ed Abrams: It does level the playing field. But the challenge that it presents to midsize businesses is that they've got to find new and different ways to serve their customers. Their customers are much more demanding today than they have been in the past. They have more choice than they had in the past.

Now, because midsize businesses tend to be more nimble and tend to be able to react to customer needs more effectively, they can grow their businesses faster and in different areas than they may have ever thought before.

ForwardView: Are we talking about fine tuning the way they're doing business or about something that's fundamentally changing the business model?

Ed Abrams: We can actually be talking about both. There are things on a smarter planet that companies in the midmarket can do from a very tactical and practical perspective in terms of basic CRM and ERP-like solutions, but we are also talking about bringing together technology and business strategy to find new and different ways to exploit a business.

It can be as simple as changing the way they think about point-of-sale solutions to provide a more rich customer experience. But it can also be changing the whole supply chain and strategic delivery mechanisms to grow their business and to leap-frog competition.

ForwardView: It sounds like the impact is both internal and external.

Ed Abrams: One of the things that a smarter planet is doing is that it's allowing companies to build much more customer loyalty. By having access to better information on customer wants and needs, and on customer opportunities and areas for growth, companies are able to better support them and better provide them with what they need.

A good example of that is a company like Performance Bicycle where IBM and our Business Partners have worked together to give them a much better CRM capability and solution to allow them to ensure that they can anticipate what it is that the bicycling enthusiast is really looking for during different times of the year—and ensure that they're delivering that through their catalog and e-catalog business in a way that preempts competition and allows them to more effectively provide value.

Then from the internal perspective, I think what you're seeing is that there is the opportunity for companies to be far more efficient and effective with their own operations and really be able to reduce their IT infrastructure costs and their IT infrastructure labor and burden and to reinvest it to grow their businesses.

A good example of that is a company out on the West Coast, Sun World, where because they were able to streamline their IT environment and get better data out of the system at the same time, they were able to better manage their inventory, reduce inefficiency and waste, and get a much greater yield out of their perishable product line. This is actually allowing them to sell more of the produce that they harvest, lower their operating costs and grow their business.

ForwardView: What do you see in the future then for these internal and external processes?

Ed Abrams: Specific to the midsize business, we really are seeing cloud computing become a reality. There was a period of time where most midsize companies were a little hesitant to think about putting different aspects of their business into the cloud. And what we're seeing now is that a lot of these businesses have recognized that cloud computing and the capabilities that exist around cloud really free them up to be much more real-time reactive to marketplace needs.

ForwardView: We're talking about something big—a planet. What can an individual do to make the planet smarter?

Ed Abrams: The reality is, while we do talk about a smarter planet, it really starts with smarter individuals. And what an individual in a midsize business can do to start to take advantage of a smarter planet and drive change inside their organization is to just think about and challenge themselves on how they are using information differently inside their organization. What are they doing to empower their teams to make better decisions? What are they doing to provide and identify the key insights that will drive growth and success? It's not all about big, giant organizational change.

ForwardView: What are some of the steps a company should take to position themselves to participate in the smarter planet?

Ed Abrams: One of the first things is to talk to their IBM Business Partner or talk to IBM directly—and not just about what their technology goals are. Those are conversations we all have all the time. But what they should really be doing is thinking about what their business goals are. What are they aspiring for their organization to become? Are they using information and analytics effectively in their organization?

ForwardView: Of course, these will vary from company to company, but have you found some common areas?

Ed Abrams: What we see is that business analytics is a starting point. Are companies able to unlock the information that they already have inside their organization and pull the key insights out?

Another is, as they look at their IT environment, have they been as cost-effective as they can? Are they leveraging things like virtualization and other technologies to ensure that they are getting the most out of their existing IT environment before investing more?

And then finally, are they doing things in cloud computing that really are allowing them to branch into new and different application areas and get better insights into how to grow their business?

ForwardView: How has IBM helped make the smarter planet a reality for midsize companies?

Ed Abrams: One of the things that we can absolutely point to is the relationships that we have with our Business Partners. We've got some phenomenal Business Partners with tremendous amounts of industry and IT skill that can help our customers approach their business and their business problems and apply IT to solve them. We've enabled those partners with some very strong solutions and product offerings such as our Cognos offerings which provide outstanding business analytics and business insight capabilities.

ForwardView: What's coming in 2011 that will be especially helpful and appealing to midsize companies?

Ed Abrams: This year we're going to be very focused on ensuring that we are delivering against the needs that I spoke of earlier from a cloud perspective. We're working very hard on a series of different cloud-based solutions as well as set of purpose-built solutions for midsize businesses as part of our Smarter Business Solution Portfolio. These solutions are going to be designed specifically to help midsize businesses with everything from desktop virtualization to collaboration to document management. And we're committed to making sure that these are effective solutions delivered through our Business Partners that solve the problems or challenges of our midsize business customers.

About Ed Abrams
Ed is currently the Vice President of Marketing IBM Midmarket. In this role, Ed is responsible for leading a diverse team that supports IBM's business objectives with small and midsize businesses by developing, planning and executing offerings and go-to-market strategies designed to help midsize business grow. In this role Ed works closely and collaboratively with our sales and channels teams and our agency partners to deliver high-quality and effective marketing strategies, offerings and campaigns. Ed joined IBM 16 years ago and has held a number of roles within the IBM marketing organization in that time.

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