The Big Deal: Tech Giants Fawn over Small Fry

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2006-06-05 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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With the high-end enterprise market growing at a snail's pace and big vendors desperate for new revenue, industry heavyweights are turning their attention to SMBs.

Tom Miller is a wanted man. He's wanted by Microsoft and a handful of other top technology vendors willing to go to unusual lengths to get his business, even though his company might look like small potatoes to some.

"The enterprise market is saturated. Vendors have woken up to say, 'Here is a market that has similar needs to the big enterprises,'" said Miller, senior IT director at FoxHollow Technologies, a medical technology company in Redwood City, Calif., and an eWEEK Corporate Partner.

A publicly traded company, FoxHollow has about 550 employees, including an IT staff of 17, and reported $128 million in revenue for 2005.

"Normally a company our size doesn't get an assigned relationship manager, but Microsoft has given us one. It doesn't mean we have gotten anything extraordinary, but at least the attention span is there," said Miller.

With the high-end enterprise market growing at a snail's pace and big vendors desperate for new revenue, industry heavyweights such as IBM, Oracle, EMC and Microsoft have been turning their attention to small-enterprise customers in recent weeks.

IBM leads with a plethora of initiatives, ranging from a Concierge Service for smaller customers to a small mainframe, a downsized blade and storage bundles.

IBM also is trying to modularize its service offerings as commodities for smaller customers.

Oracle is considering a small-enterprise version of its Fusion middleware to complement its Oracle Database 10g SE (Standard Edition) One and E-Business Suite Special Edition, both tailored for small customers.

EMC has been making waves by launching with Dell new Clariion systems for small enterprises, while SAP announced with IBM an expansion of their reseller relationship aimed at small enterprises.

These efforts are redefining the enterprise market. Research company IDC estimates the global small-enterprise market to be worth $475 billion annually.

Big vendors typically haven't dealt directly with customers that have fewer than 1,000 employees, relegating them to channel partners. But the lines are blurring, as the case of FoxHollow proves.

Click here to read more about the challenges tech giants face.

The flurry of attention means that, for small-enterprise customers, life is—or should be—good.

With tight budgets and small staffs, small enterprises can't waste time on complex products that require the consultant hand-holding typical of full-blown enterprise products. Further, they must beware of complex products relabeled and pitched for small enterprises.

"I don't believe all the hype. IBM says they have a product for the small market. A whole lot of times, it's the same product but priced differently," said Mike Chandler, CIO of Wilmington Trust, in Wilmington, Del., a financial institution with $10 billion in assets.

For all but specialized banking software, Chandler said he wants products that work out of the box, which is generally not the case for high-end enterprise products.

For instance, Chandler said he looked at an EMC Documentum imaging system that the vendor was pitching him. "They tried to sell this as a midmarket-to-small-market product. The packaging and pricing was slightly different, but otherwise it was just the same as a mainstream enterprise product we saw two years ago," said Chandler, adding that the product had not been simplified for small enterprises.

Next Page: Redefining the enterprise.

Yet finding products that are easy for small enterprises to set up and get running isn't easy.

Here's how some enterprise vendors are trying to redefine the enterprise and how some customers are taking advantage.

IBM has Express products in many lines of business that target small enterprises. More are on the way.

In May, the company announced blade and storage offerings for small and midsize businesses and, in April, announced a new small mainframe.

IBM's services wing is leading the charge, vowing to package solutions of hardware, software and services that can be sold to many different users with little modification.

In one case, IBM was able to scale itself down to the right level by offering an inexpensive Linux-based blade package with enough support to get the job done.

Matt Welker, chief technology officer at CORE Feature Animation, a 100-employee company that creates animation effects for movies, wanted to build a rendering farm to create animation effects for the Disney movie "The Wild" and was seeking a cheaper approach than his company's previous vendor, SGI, had.

"IBM was the only [vendor] that gave us the full support we required. They made it like a turnkey operation," said Welker in Toronto. "With SGI in the past, we didn't see the same level of attention."

But IBM doesn't always get it right. FoxHollow's Miller said IBM's approach is still too large-scale and too IBM-centric.

"We don't need Notes Domino, and they want to sell you the suite of products from IBM," Miller said.

"They should contact me and say, 'We've got some solutions that are appropriate for a company your size that would help solve specific business problems.'"

Although Miller said he sees signs of improvement from IBM, FoxHollow still does not use any IBM products or services.

Next Page: Oracle and the little guys.

Oracle is similarly eager to close deals with the little guys. The push goes back a year and a half, said Willie Hardie, vice president of database product marketing at Oracle, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

A significant step was the release of Oracle Database 10g, which includes streamlined installation and administration features.

Oracle offers two scaled-down versions of the flagship product: the very basic Express Edition and the more advanced SE 1, which includes support for two CPUs and some features of the high-end Enterprise Edition, including unlimited database size, support for 64-bit systems and cluster failover.

One customer, Enetrix, which offers hosted e-commerce solutions that measure customer feedback, chose to build its offerings on SE 1 on top of Microsoft Windows.

"[SE 1] had the features we needed. It's four times the cost to go with Oracle Enterprise," said Jody McDonough, vice president of product development and chief operating officer of Enetrix, in Middleton, Wis.

Read more here about Oracle adding support for the Microsoft .Net Framework and Windows Server System, including the SQL Server database, to Oracle Enterprise Manager 10g Grid Control.

SAP now has about 32,000 customers and is aiming to increase that total to 100,000 in the next four years, which will require a major push among small-enterprise customers.

At its Sapphire user conference May 16-18, SAP and IBM inked a deal that will increase the number of IBM channel partners versed in SAP software from 12 to 40 by the end of 2007. The partners will be selling scaled-down versions of SAP applications with fixed fees and implementation times and will focus on specific vertical markets.

The channel push with IBM comes as competitive opportunities appear among traditional midmarket competitors. JD Edwards, now part of Oracle, may be in a holding pattern in gaining new accounts.

As it is, Oracle is touting its Fusion plan to integrate its ERP (enterprise resource planning) lines, including those of JD Edwards. Many customers are sitting on the sidelines, awaiting the outcome.

Other midmarket ERP players are consolidating as well. Infor Global Solutions on May 15 acquired SSA Global, which had itself acquired a gaggle of companies in recent years. Lawson Software in June 2005 acquired Intentia, which focuses on the manufacturing market.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is moving up the food chain even as big players such as SAP try to move down. Webasto US, the North American unit of German auto-parts maker Webasto, considered SAP software for an ERP implementation. "To go to SAP worldwide would be cost-prohibitive, even with their lower-end packaging," said Andy Fralick, IT manager at Webasto, in Fenton, Mich. Instead, Fralick chose Microsoft's Xapta package. "Microsoft products work out of the box. I don't have to pay a roomful of consultants to get a usable product," said Fralick.

Microsoft has long been implementing a midmarket-focused ERP strategy, weaving together software acquired with Great Plains, Navision, Solomon and Xapta under its Project Green strategy for creating an extensive product line with many shared characteristics.

Fralick said SAP, despite its efforts at reaching smaller enterprises, has more work to do. "[SAP software's] problem is the same as its strength. It doesn't do a heck of a lot until you heavily customize it. SAP doesn't make its money selling software; it makes its money selling services. It's to its advantage to have you wedded to them for the rest of your life. As long as that's how they market, they will not get the SMB customers," said Fralick.

Small enterprises will get attention disproportionate to their size if they are growing at a rapid rate, which Fox-Hollow is doing in the hot medical technology field. Miller said FoxHollow's annual revenues jumped from $37 million in 2004 to $128 million in 2005.

FoxHollow also looks larger than its size because Miller has built a lab for testing IT solutions.

"You normally would not see that in the SMB space," said Miller. "But that's going to be changing, as people want to understand the impact of change on an environment. When you show a vendor you have an internal lab and a comprehensive change management system, they look at you like you're an enterprise customer and you get more respect, and the relationship develops at a faster pace."

Still, many large vendors are just at the beginning of the learning curve. "When I do get contacted by the large vendors," said Miller, "I usually get contacted by four or five people at the company—the left and the right hand rarely know what's going on."

Next Page: Moving to Smallville.

Moving to Smallville

Technology vendors are tailoring their wares to the needs of small-enterprise customers. Here's a roundup:

* SAP on May 17 at its Sapphire annual user conference in Orlando, Fla., expanded its reseller relationship with IBM and its channel partners to include several vertical-market implementations of MySAP All-in-One. SAP also offers Business One packaging of its ERP (enterprise resource planning) software for midsize businesses.

* EMC on May 11 bought Interlink Group, a services company specializing in Microsoft technologies and serving small-enterprise customers. EMC also has launched storage products and created a line of refurbished hardware and software for small-enterprise customers.

* Hewlett-Packard on May 9 announced new notebook computers in configurations and with financing plans aimed at small enterprises. HP also revamped its Web site to make it easier for small-enterprise customers to find information.

* Accenture on March 6 purchased key assets of Savista, a provider of BPO (business process outsourcing) services that cater to small-enterprise customers.

* Microsoft launched in November 2005 Premier Foundation, a 24/7 service priced at $30,000 and geared to small enterprises. Microsoft also recently launched Solution Finder, a Web-based service to help customers find partners (microsoft.com/midsizebusiness).

* Oracle, which began a small-enterprise push in earnest about two years ago with its SE 1 database, is considering a version of its Fusion project next-generation ERP applications that would be tailored to small-enterprise customers.

* Sun Microsystems is aiming its on-demand grid computing service at small enterprises. Sun has signed nearly 1,000 customers for the service.

Check out eWEEK.com's for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.

 
 
 
 
Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on Zcast.tv. He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.
 
 
 
 
 
























 
 
 
 
 
 

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