IBM: Salesforce.com's new best friend?

IBM has launched a Center of Excellence for software as a service to help customers implement on-demand software. Guess which SaaS provider is likely to benefit the most?

IBM has launched a Center of Excellence for software as a service to help customers implement on-demand software. Guess which SaaS provider is likely to benefit the most? Yup. Salesforce.com.

On Thursday, IBM announced a so-called Center of Excellence (statement) designed to "assist organizations worldwide in evaluating, implementing, and driving value from SaaS for customer relationship management (CRM)."

Sure there are other on-demand CRM companies, but a disproportionate share of Big Blue's SaaS spoils will go to Salesforce.com--especially if IBM is firmly on the on-demand software bandwagon now. NetSuite will get some business also, but IBM's move into SaaS is notable. Sure, IBM wants the services revenue, but it's clear that Web-based apps can get more traction with Big Blue in the fold. Couple IBM's move with Salesforce.com's penchant for going after large enterprise accounts and you could have quite a partnership.

Citi analyst Brent Thill connects the dots in a research note:

Although no vendor was mentioned, we believe IBM’s new initiative could disproportionately benefit Salesforce.com (SFDC) given SFDC is the highest profile SaaS CRM vendor on the market and there is an existing partnership between SFDC and IBM Global Services.

Thill's argument goes like this: Salesforce.com has big enterprise reference accounts. It is already partnered with IBM's services unit. IBM services unit is vendor agnostic, but wouldn't mind sticking it to Oracle's Siebel. Thill notes that Oracle shifted the hosting and database infrastructure of Siebel CRM Ondemand away from IBM as Big Blue was one of Siebel's largest customers. It all adds up that IBM would give Salesforce.com a boost.

To be sure Salesforce.com wasn't mentioned by name in IBM's press release but it's no coincidence that the CIO of Konica Minolta Business Solutions was quoted. Konica is a big Salesforce.com customer. Update: IBMsaid it installed Oracle Siebel SaaS at Konica to counter Thill's note. However, Konica is also a Salesforce.com customer.

I wonder how chummy IBM and Salesforce.com will ultimately get.

Also see: Dell and Salesforce.com: So cozy they could merge (someday)