IBM has big plans for small firms

Q&A: IBM admits that small businesses are often reluctant to use it as a supplier, but says the power of advertising can work wonders

IBM is the supplier of technology to the world's largest companies. At least that is the traditional view, but the new man in charge of selling the company to small and medium-sized firms sees it differently.

David Stokes became vice-president of IBM's SMB (small and medium-sized business, in IBM parlance) for the UK, Ireland and South Africa six months ago, but hasn't spoken to the press, until now. He told ZDNet UK how IBM is growing its share of the SMB market and where he plans to go from here.

And yes, advertising, plays a big part.

Q: What are the priorities in your new role?
A: The same priorities as SMBs. I think they have four main ones. Security is the first and that is the security of their systems and issues like compliance. Security is a real concern and, for some reason, especially in the UK.

Integration is the second area. Now I am asked about this a lot. It's things like integrating wireless applications. People are doing this more and they want to know that they can integrate things easily.

Thirdly it is dealing with information — just the sheer amount of information. You know, the more I talk to SMBs, the more they are just like any company, whatever the size. The amount of information they have to deal with is growing and growing. Through our relationships with the leading software companies we can really help them.

And the fourth area is all around employee publishing. Over the last year this has been a growing trend. Areas like portals are not new but we are now seeing rapid growth in the SMB market.

What newer areas are showing growth?
Our new RFID systems are really starting to move. This is one of those areas where SMBs have struggled because more and more of the bigger companies expect them to be able to support this. Now we can support the SMBs who have these companies as customers.

IBM does not have a reputation as a supplier for the smaller companies, do you find it difficult to persuade them that IBM is serious about SMEs?
Yes, it is difficult. We have had to "walk the walk". We can talk about it but we have been working on this for the last four years. You will have seen the advertising. That's an important part of it. We needed to tell people what we can do for them. Then we have had to show them. That is what we have been doing and we are seeing the results in the market.

The SMB market is growing faster than the market as a whole. IDC expects the global SMB market to increase seven percent, or $140bn (£81bn), this year while the overall market grows at 6 percent. We have grown to faster than that. We are 20 percent of IBM and we expect to grow that figure.

Do you see open source growing faster than other areas?
That is not something I track. IBM is a major company in open source but from my point of view, my responsibility is to have the products and services that the customer wants. If they want open source, they can have open source.

How do you get on with Microsoft?
As a company we are very close partners with Microsoft. You will have seen about the Xbox? That's our technology. Microsoft is our biggest software partner by a long way. But we are in competition with them in many other areas and that is the way it is.

It is a plus for us that many organisations see them as a threat. But 'co-opetition' is part and parcel of being an open vendor.

What are your targets in your job?
Customer satisfaction. How can we help customers do better with us whether it is products or the constancy. In whatever ways we can help.

As someone from Australia originally, how do you think the UK SMBs compare to those in other countries?
Well I have been here for a very long time now, 12 years or something, and I am married to someone from here, so that is hard to say. But compared to SMBs in other European countries I would say that the big difference is that they are much more innovative here. They really like trying new things.

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