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IBM Aims Express Additions At Smaller Businesses

The new offerings are mostly scaled-down, less-costly versions of its middleware and database software.

IBM on Wednesday unveiled a suite of additions to its Express line of products for small and midsize businesses—a market it has identified as a last bastion of robust IT spending.

For the most part, the products are scaled-down, less-expensive versions of IBM's sophisticated database and middleware software. The idea, says Elaine Lennox, IBM's marketing director for small and midsize businesses, is to give smaller companies the tools they need to conduct business processes and communications in real time, in much the same way that many multinational companies operate. That market "represents the last wave of E-business," Lennox says. IT spending in the small- and midsize-business market is growing at 9% annually, IBM says.

At a news conference in New York, IBM introduced WebSphere Commerce Express, which the company says gives midsize businesses the ability to set up a fully functioning E-commerce Web site in less than an hour. It also debuted WebSphere MQ Express, which is designed to give smaller businesses the means to connect disparate applications without the need for expensive custom coding.

The Plastic Surgery Center in Hampton Roads, Va., is using MQ Express as part of a system that automates the patient sign-in process. Patients at the clinic make their presence known by signing in on a Tablet PC. A message is then broadcast to PCs used by clinic staff members via MQ Express and Lotus Sametime. Ascendant Technology, one of a stable of IBM business partners that will help IBM reach small and midsize businesses, did the installation.

Dr. Peter Vonu, who heads the Plastic Surgery Center, says the system will let the clinic accommodate 15 more patients per week, representing additional revenue of about $250,000 per year. Vonu is the brother of Ascendant CEO Timm Vonu.

The new Express applications join DB2 Express, WebSphere Application Server Express, WebSphere Portal Express, and several other applications within IBM's growing suite of products for this market.

In targeting small and midsize businesses, IBM is chasing a market long dominated by Microsoft. Lennox says the company will compete by working with independent software vendors that have expertise in specific industries to deliver systems tailored to their needs. "With Microsoft, you get a lot of plain vanilla," Lennox says. "But if you're in retail, you need to work with someone who understands retail; if you're in manufacturing, you need to work with someone who understands manufacturing."

IBM is also aggressively pricing its Express offerings in an effort to undercut Microsoft—by as much as 25% for some middleware products. Lennox says the company can offer low-cost products while still making a profit by basing many of its Express offerings on Linux, the free open-source operating system. "Linux is core to our SMB strategy," she says.

IBM also introduced several new servers and PCs for small and midsize companies that feature the volume pricing previously only available to large customers, as well as low-rate financing options.

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