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A few weeks ago I was in Stamford, CT, at the IBM US STG (Systems and Technology Group) IT analyst conference, which featured a review of IBM market and product strategies across its System p, i, x, and z and storage product lines.
The event also focused attention on new IBM green (environmentally sensitive) initiatives relating to data centre power and cooling, and on the innovative features of IBM systems (such as blade design innovations).
The company discussed its newest push into the small and medium business (SMB) marketplace and also described its view of the evolving globally integrated enterprise (GIE).
This past week I attended IBM's European IT analyst event in Lisbon, Portugal – an event that was hosted by all IBM units (systems, software, and services). This event covered the same themes – innovation, green, SMB, and GIE as the US conference – but from a cross-organisational as well as European perspective.
IBM also included "drill downs" on the company's go-to-market strategies in Europe, as well as breakout sessions on "out-there" technologies such as virtual worlds and advanced data correlation.
I liked both events tremendously – each augmented the other to give me a broader composite picture of IBM products and strategies. The remainder of this article articulates some of the tidbits I picked up about IBM's market initiatives while in Europe.
The common ground...sort of
The European coverage of IBM's approach to innovation, green, SMB, and GIE supported the fundamental concepts and the common core foundations set in Stamford. But because the European event took a cross-organisational approach – some of the disciplines covered and some of the perspectives were different. For example:
- Innovation – The focus on innovation at both events highlighted how IBM uses innovation to differentiate itself from its competitors – and how innovation is used to ultimately deliver real customer value. However, in Stamford, innovation was discussed largely as it applied to the power, performance, and product advantages of IBM systems and storage brands and related professional services. The Europeans concentrated on presenting a bigger picture of innovation. Hardware innovation was discussed, but only in the context of the bigger picture (as turnkey hardware/software/service solutions aimed at business model redesign and business transformation).
The take-away: both approaches worked for me. As a technology analyst, I needed to understand in-depth the competitive differentiation that innovation delivers at the hardware level. But as a worldwide business consultant, I needed the European context that frames innovation as a turnkey, deliverable solution.
- The globally integrated enterprise – Like their North American counterparts, the Europeans talked freely about the importance of breaking down siloed country barriers, and about sending business tasks to the right geographies around the world in order to reduce operational costs.
IBM knows that by executing work in the right labour pools around the world, enterprises can greatly reduce their operating costs, and both the US and European analyst events delivered this message. But, the Europeans seemed to stress the idea of breaking down country and cultural barriers more heavily than their US counterparts. This difference could be because the US presenters were largely technical systems/storage people who were not really wearing their GIE hats – but it can also be attributed to IBM Europe's need to deal with so many cultural/country barriers within the European Union.
- The "Big Green" initiative – the US had a decidedly stronger focus on the green initiative as it related to data centre energy consumption and heat dissipation improvements. The Europeans, however, took a far broader view, discussing carbon emission reduction strategies, customer scenarios, green products, supply chain issues, people commitment issues, and information, property, and IT data centre concerns.
In the US, the focus was tactical – how to reduce IT operational costs. The Europeans, however, see the carbon emissions issue as more expansive and global issue (and rightfully so) – and took a more strategic approach to the green issue. Americans are comparatively far behind in terms of readiness and/or willingness to deal with the discussion of carbon emissions beyond the data centre.
- IBM's new SMB initiative – The US presenters were very aggressive about their plans to tackle the small business marketplace with renewed vigour and a spate of prepackaged SMB products and services. The Europeans showed only a handful of products and services that they were presently capable of successfully pumping through SMB channels – a situation that made me think the Europeans were not quite as well prepared as North American markets to execute IBM's new "grab SMB market share" plan.
However, in a breakout session I learned that IBM's new SMB packaging and service deliverables were not made available throughout all of Europe until only a few short months ago. Hence, my initial read was wrong – the Europeans are being just as aggressive as their North American/worldwide SMB counterparts. Now all I have to wait for is to see if IBM's efforts to conquer the SMB market against well-entrenched competitors like HP and Dell can gain the expected momentum. The jury is still out on this one...
European analysts received the same basic messages as their US counterparts – but with some distinct differences in emphasis due to IBM Europe's multi-disciplinary approach to deliver its message. So this makes one ask the question: "Why doesn't IBM in North America use a multi-disciplinary approach to deliver its messages?"
The answer to this question appears to be two-fold.
First, there are comparatively far fewer IT research analysts in Europe than there are in North America. In order to provide analysts with the personal attention needed to ensure they get to meet with the right executives on the right topics at the right time, IBM separates its analyst events into more manageably-sized systems/software events by geography.
Second, there is a tremendous amount of specialisation in hardware talent in North America. With this much specialisation, a hardware-focused event still makes sense – as does a software-focused event. On occasion, a services focused event might also make sense in North America.
One might ask: "Why not bring the Europeans to IBM's US events?" And even though US and European analysts share many interests, I would argue that there are issues that are germane to Europe that deserve special European coverage.
For instance, Europeans appear to be more willing to take a more global view on environmental issues than the US; Europe does not have vast oil resources; The EU supports the Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; several European countries have rigorous pollution controls and legislation in place. By comparison, the US is way behind Europe in dealing with green initiatives, so it probably makes sense to separate the European messages from the US messages in this particular space.
The bottom line after these two events is that despite obvious geographical and cultural differences, IBM's basic messages remain the same – innovation, GIE, green, and SMB.
But these topics carry different weights by region and by the specific IBM organisation that presents on these topics. While there were marked differences in the coverage of green and SMB issues at both events, overall each augmented the other.
This is a situation that works well for IBM, and also for me as I attempt to stay on top of IT and business transformation in both North America and Europe.
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