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Wanted: Business Outcomes For Enterprising Midmarket

Just about 10 weeks into his stint as the new general manager of IBM's midmarket business, Andy Monshaw has a lot of data to compute. He's spent these past weeks working his way around the globe, talking to everybody from partners and clients to analysts and advisory boards. Now he's putting the pieces together.

Just about 10 weeks into his stint as the new general manager of IBM's midmarket business, Andy Monshaw has a lot of data to compute. He's spent these past weeks working his way around the globe, talking to everybody from partners and clients to analysts and advisory boards. Now he's putting the pieces together.Perhaps the most important thing he's come away with is this: There's a big shift taking place in the midmarket arena, and the channel players that embrace it will fare best in the coming months and years. That shift is toward giving clients specific results -- or "business outcomes," as Monshaw puts it.

He says companies are seeking those outcomes primarily in four areas: availability, security, collaboration, and leverage.

1) Availability. Yes, this is partly about making sure that users have 24x7 access to applications and information, but that's only part of the story. According to Monshaw, some midmarket companies are experiencing explosive growth (yes, even in this weakened economy), but unless they're able to scale up and down with the market, they won't be able to manage that growth effectively.

Also, there's another facet to availability these days. It's not just about keeping desktops humming back at the ranch; it's also about making sure that the same apps and data available to employees at the office are available out in the field -- on BlackBerrys, iPads and other mobile devices.

Monshaw cites as an example a construction company whose workers need to get up-to-the-minute inventory and pricing data on their PDAs. Without it, realtime collaboration and negotiation with clients would be impossible. A Business Outcome: "I have anytime-anywhere access to all critical data from my mobile device."

2) Security. As a former storage-biz exec, Monshaw says he's seen his share of SMBs that didn't bother to back up their data. "They might've gotten by in the 'old world,'" he says. "But today, data protection is not an option." And that's especially true given an ever-growing list of compliance rules and regulations. A Business Outcome: "I can pass an audit."

3) Collaboration. We live in an increasingly social world, and a global economy makes it even more vital that we keep in touch regularly with customers, partners, and suppliers, wherever they may be. The proliferation of social media sites and applications has made staying connected easier, but it's also complicated matters for smaller operations trying to figure out how to capitalize on social networking opportunities in order to boost business. A Business Outcome: "I've leveraged my social networking community to drive sales and inspire brand loyalty."

4) Leverage. "Today's midmarket players don't have to be technology experts," Monshaw says. "What they do need to know is how to leverage technology platforms to improve their business." They also need to leverage their data. For example, Sun World, a produce grower in California, has been using analytics technology to 1) collect and measure information about crop yield, farm labor costs, water usage, and other aspects of its business and 2) use that data to make decisions and tweak its practices. A Business Outcome: "I use analytics to gain actionable intelligence and make smart decisions about running my business."

Monshaw says midmarket companies spend $156 billion each year on IT, and that excludes printers, PCs, and other commodities. In other words, these businesses are sinking a lot of cash into IT services, which explains why so many solution providers are moving away from the typical focus on hardware-software bundles.

There are still some traditional resellers out there whose portfolio consists of only a limited set of services, Monshaw says. But many more are being recast as "value-added partners," the ones who devote their energy to deploying technology platforms and services (think cloud computing, business analytics, and collaboration solutions). Then there's the new breed of consultants, whose ranks are growing fast. "They've formed a cottage industry of sorts," Monshaw says. "They focus just on end-to end consulting, and their aim is to deliver full-fledged business outcomes."

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