Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

May 5, 2015

SMB Group talks to Atlantis Computing about HyperScale Appliance

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Here’s an edited transcript of my interview with Bob Davis, VP of Marketing for Atlantis Computing about their recently announced HyperScale Appliance.

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Sanjeev: Hi, this is Sanjeev Aggarwal from SMB group and in today’s SMB spotlight I’m talking to Bob Davis, who is Atlantis Computing’s Vice President of Marketing. Hi Bob, thanks for joining me in this discussion. To start it would be good to know what types of storage solutions Altantis provides.

Bob: Okay, well first of all thank you for the opportunity to be on the call today, Sanjeev. We are excited to be launching an all-flash hyper-converged appliance, which we call Atlantis HyperScale, that provides not only compute, networking and storage, but all together in one box for up to 90% less cost than competing alternatives.

Sanjeev: And why should mid-size companies care about this solution?

Bob: I think the focus here is that this is the first commercially viable choice that SMBs have had to really adopt such a powerful component for their compute needs or their data center needs. It takes all of that functionality that I just described and makes it affordable, really addressing the needs for performance, which all-flash addresses, but it’s very expensive. It also provides simplicity, which our hyper-converged architecture promises but which has been priced out of the market for most, if not all SMBs.

Sanjeev: How do you define a hyper-converged appliance? And what services does this appliance provide?

Bob: Well, obviously the appliance manifests itself as a hardware box, as a hardware server. On it we provide an all-flash architecture, with the ability to deploy on any of your favorite hardware. For example, Super Micro, Cisco, HP or Lenovo servers, which contain, as I mentioned, compute capabilities, state of the art X86 compute capabilities and networking capabilities. So it plugs right into your infrastructure, and obviously your storage, and the storage comes in 12 and 24 TB configurations. Upon that architecture, it can run really any workload, any application. So far, customers have used it for things like desktop virtualization, database acceleration, collaboration, storage, and applications like email and other virtualized server applications that are found typically in SMB and commercial environments.

Sanjeev: Thanks. Cost is an important consideration for the mid-sized company, so how does the price point of the Atlantis solution compare to the competitors that have similar solutions?

Bob: You’re absolutely right, Sanjeev, I think cost and simplicity or time-to-value are two of the primary drivers that were included in the evolution and the development of this product line. From a cost point of view, our product starts at a price of $80,000 for an all-flash 12 TB appliance. Compare that with other all-flash appliances and you can spend up to $800,000. So a factor of 10 more expensive, even against lower performance hybrid type converged boxes you’re looking at a price savings of greater than 50%. So again, really making it commercially viable for the first time.

Sanjeev: How easy is it to deploy this appliance, and does one need to be a storage expert to deploy it?

Bob: Yeah, that points to the second of our previous comments and that is the simplicity aspect. That was really important to us, so we developed it with the idea that the customer would have very little in terms of an IT staff, that the IT Staff would be generalists or perhaps even an external IT staff. We wanted it to be able to be very straightforward. It takes less than 20 minutes to install at a customer site. Answer a few questions and boom the volumes serve up, the virtual server comes alive, and it’s available on the network for high performance. It’s very straightforward and the time-to-value is like lightning. So it’s really an awesome product for that market.

Sanjeev: And does this appliance integrate some of the previous storage systems that SMBs and mid-market companies have?

Bob: Yes, it conforms to every standard on the planet, it comes complete with networking, so it’s a plug and play component from that point of view, and serves up the storage to the network so it’s visible through the network management application that might be present at the site through common APIs.

Sanjeev: Okay, can you give some examples of initial targets for the vertical solutions and also some examples of mid-market beta customers that have tested the solution?

Bob: Sure, I think that you know, we have historically at Atlantis computing, seen a lot of pickup in the healthcare and financial services area for Software-Defined Storage as a category as a whole, Atlantis HyperScale has seen some similar kind of attraction, so mid-sized banks, regional banks, healthcare organizations, pharmacy, these are all verticals that have been very, very prominent. Another is schools. We’ve had tremendous success, historically and with Atlantis Hypsercale in the area of schools. A lot of the things that are in common in these environments, are desktops that move around whether its doctors, or students for example, or tellers, where I have a desktop virtualization application which by the way are very inefficient relative to storage and require a lot of performance which makes a hyper-converged architecture in this case, Atlantis HyperScale, perfect for those environments. And that is indeed the environment where our beta customers have come from, in addition to that, some retail and manufacturing facilities. And our customers have been both North America as well as EMIA, in terms of their geography, so we see a very global presence with Atlantis HyperScale.

Sanjeev: How does Atlantis go to market with the solution, does it sell directly or through channel partners?

Bob: Great question Sanjeev, because that’s very central to our strategy. We are going to market exclusively through Value-Added-Resellers, solution providers and so forth. We have an Atlantis Channel Program where we are beginning this through to our gold partners, but we will be expanding it to those that service the SMB market, that deal in storage virtualization markets. But again key point, a hundred percent through the channel is the fulfillment strategy of Atlantis Hyerscale

Sanjeev: And can you help mid-market companies connect with these partners?

Bob: Yes, you are able to go to our website at Atlantiscomputing.com, the HyperScale sections on the website are clear and from that you’ll be able to find a partner and get a quote. You’ll obviously get more information and really learn anything you’d like about Atlantis HyperScale and in this particular point, especially about where to buy it.

Sanjeev: Okay, thank you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I look forward to seeing the progress this innovative and competitive solution makes in the market.

Bob: Thank you very much Sanjeev, we will be sure to keep you and your listeners and readers apprised of our progress.

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April 9, 2015

Infusionsoft ICON15: Inspiration and Automation for Small Business Marketing

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe and I’m here today for SMB’s Spotlight with Greg Head, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Infusionsoft. We’re at the ICON 2015 event, which is Infusionsoft’s annual user conference. It’s been a blast so far and I’d like to learn more about it, but Greg, could you start just by telling us a little bit about what Infusionsoft, and about the company in general?
Greg: Well, Infusionsoft is the leading sales and marketing software for small businesses and the company has been around for just over 12 years. It started as a small business that turned into a startup that turned into a growth company. And now it’s one of the largest software companies, with 30,000 small business customers. We serve exclusively small businesses and we have over 600 employees and thousands of partners.
Laurie: And located here in the Phoenix area?
Greg: Yes, located here in Phoenix where we started.
Laurie: Okay, and just to clarify when you say small business–because we know as analysts when people say small business they could mean a thousand different things–what’s small business for Infusionsoft?
Greg: Well, we serve small businesses that have up and running businesses. That are full time and have employees and are still owner operated, which means most of our customers have 25 employees and of that most have fewer than 10. That’s where most small businesses reside, but there’s the mid-market of hundreds employees and on up that we are not involved with at all.
Laurie: Okay, that’s good clarification. So tell us about ICON. This is the third year I’ve been here so I’m very familiar, that it’s a great event, but who is it for? What are the goals for the event?
Greg: ICON is our annual conference for users and partners, and now other small businesses that want to join in on all the learning and keynote speakers and so forth. So it’s here at the Phoenix Convention Center, we outgrew the conference room and then hotel rooms and the largest hotel in Phoenix. It’s kind of a movement that’s been happening and now there are over 3500 people here this week. Here exclusively to talk about small business growth, small business sales and marketing, some on how to use Infusionsoft better, that’s definitely part of it. You can be here for three days and attend very valuable sessions and keynotes on these topics.
Laurie: Yes, we will post a link to where people can get more information about the sessions.
Greg: Excellent.
Laurie: So, can you tell me a little bit more about the Infusionsoft solution, what does it do for small businesses? Why do they use it? What benefits do they get out of it?
Greg: Yeah, the main thing, is that our solution is the small business CRM, the contact management, the customer database, and the marketing capabilities from web forms, to emails, and all the automation needed make things go–because small business owners need to make things go.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And ecommerce to transact online, it’s all in one system. So we help small businesses that are growing and have customers, leads in their funnel coming off the website and Facebook, the new digital funnel has exploded.
Laurie: Right. Exactly.
Greg: Most small businesses have a dozen different tools to capture leads over here and to sell something online over here. So Infusionsoft is the one system that can organize all of that.
Laurie: And to automate it.
Greg: Yeah, once you are organized you can actually automate. You can set it up to start doing things for you that we used to have to do manually.
Laurie: Right.
Greg: And that’s driving a lot of small businesses crazy.
Laurie: Yes, because you can’t keep up with the follow up and the other things that you need to do on that one off basis in a small company. Well, even in a large company it just doesn’t scale. So if you don’t automate it…
Greg: Yeah, but big companies, for instance, at Infusionsoft, we have IT resources, technology, and money to throw at it. Small businesses need one system that’s going to run and help to do that.
Laurie: Yes, absolutely, and I think that as a small business, that you got to have the inspiration, the perspiration, but then you need automation because if you don’t have that you know that perspiration factor just shoots right up.
Greg: Yeah, that’s right.
Laurie: And you’re killing yourself before long with that. And that gets on to my next question, which is for many small businesses, unless they are sales and marketing coaches, or something like that, sales and marketing is an intimidating thing. Putting yourself out there, fear of rejection and everything else. So when you counsel people about some of the basics, things they should look at when you’re thinking, “Okay how do I take sales and marketing in my company to the next level? Or I realize that my revenues are flat, or my revenues are declining, so I’ve got to do something. Where is the right place to start?” How should they think about tactics, strategy, that kind of thing?
Greg: Well, most small business owners don’t think about it separately, it’s part of what they do, and they’re in the firefight. So the first thing is when we help them, it’s a function of where they are in the stage of their business. Maybe they’ve just quit their job, and now they have the business up and running, and getting sales going for the first time. Or maybe they have some revenues and they’re trying to grow figure out tactics to make it work, and 10 or 20 employees, you’ve got different types of issues there. But primarily small businesses jump right into the tactics to go get people to talk to, to sell or convert online. So they run right into the tactical mode, and that’s where all the beginning is. They have a hard time taking a step back and looking how to optimize all that.
Laurie: Their real objectives are how they are going to measure the improvement?
Greg: Yeah, again they get a little stuck because they are peddling so fast, and they don’t look at the biggest thing underneath of all of that is distinguishing the right market for their products and services. At first everybody goes out and tries to sell to everybody but after a while, you have to start narrowing it down, to the ones who are your best customers and prospects.
Laurie: So I know you have a lot of tools to help people use the Infusionsoft solution, do you also have services to help them figure out those bigger picture things?
Greg: Yeah, well small businesses need help and between our partners and us we help them get Infusionsoft set up and get the system running and helping in their business, and we’re also advising them tactically where they should be spending time to plug the hole. Our partners do consulting as well to help small businesses figure out their marketing strategy. At ICON, over half of the speaking sessions are not about the tactical, day-to-day tactics. We are also trying to help them with ways to think about the business, and how to get through the next hurdle in the business. While businesses get to a once place, then it’s a struggle to get to the next level.
Laurie: Yeah, getting stuck and then unstuck.
Greg: So getting unstuck is a major part of what people get from coming to Infusionsoft, for a few days seeing some other possibilities and getting some tactical help to help bridge some of those gaps.
Laurie: Yeah, I like because we all get stuck in our own ruts. S one last question for you really. For you, what are the most exciting highlights here at ICON?
Greg: Well it’s a big deal for us when we get to be with all of the people that we serve. That’s why we’re here, and we get to hear all the small business stories about the stuck and unstuck. We appreciate that and all the challenges small businesses face. Some of our customers get on stage and tell their stories, and that’s a big part of what we do here. We’re continuing to grow, this is a major movement. And we’re announcing new capabilities in our product and the Infusionsoft payments to make getting paid easier and simpler, and more.
Laurie: Right, so once customers are ready to buy, you can easily process the payment.
Greg: Well, big companies, other departments handle the function of getting paid.
Laurie: We all want to get paid, right? I think that should be a good program, and you also introduced some new things to help them get started more quickly?
Greg: Yeah, there are new resources, we keep improving the resources we have for small business owners, starting with Infusionsoft get started and learn more about the concept that they may or may not know. So that’s part of our help center, and our kick-start services that we offer. And we are always making the software easier because we know small businesses have a passion, and they don’t want to spend all day reading manuals and learning to use something. You know most small business owners are focused on something else. So we try to make it easier to focus on the things that they do, and to get back the time and passion and growth in their lives. Families all that stuff that they thought they’re going to get more of, but didn’t really work out that way, so that’s why we’re here.
Laurie: This has been a great synopsis of Infusionsoft and ICON. Thanks Greg, so much.
Greg: Thank you very much.

See ICON15 event highlights here

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February 24, 2015

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s Midmarket GM On New Partner Strategy and Programs for SMB and Midmarket Companies (Part 2)

Sanjeev: Hi, this Sanjeev Aggarwal from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me in this two-part discussion about new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. Continuing our discussion in this second post, we focus on IBM’g go-to-market and channel strategy for SMBs and midmarket.

Sanjeev: How is IBM’s channel involved in marketing and selling some of these new solutions?

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John: A couple of different ways. So for Verse, for example, we make that available to and through our business partners and they have an opportunity to develop recurring revenue model, annuity model and can also add their own consultative services, things like messaging migration or post-implementation support.

We’ve also introduced something called Watson Explorer for business partners. So, that really gives a very powerful cognitive search and analytics. And through this Explorer program, the business partner can identify high revenue potential and resale opportunities on Watson Explorer and then we continue to expand that obviously into other areas. So there’s are really significant joint market investments that we make together with our business partners.

I believe it’s in the order of 100 million dollar investment in co-marketing that we spend with our business partners together. We invest and they invest and then we jointly market to identify new opportunities.

One example is in the UK where we used a very interesting customer reference from Australia. The rugby team in Australia was using, in this case, SPSS to do predictive analytics on player injuries. The customer was called the Waratahs rugby team from Australia. They were using multiple data sources, looking at the players’ training program, their previous injuries, history of injuries, number of minutes they played in matches, that kind of thing to predict future injury probabilities.

The UK team took that customer reference, turned it into a marketing campaign, which was essentially a mock newspaper. That the UK IBM team together with specific, I think, two or three business partners sent this out to 97 different sports clubs in the UK, rugby teams, soccer teams, cricket teams, with a headline that said, you know something about that particular club’s lead player getting injured in three weeks’ time.

So, they sent, for example, to Manchester United such-and-such a player gets injured in three weeks. And then explained within the text how they could have used the IBM analytics tools working with the business partner to predict and effectively reduce the likelihood of injuries and therefore seen significant benefits to the team, which counts on having a full roster of players, etc.

We sent that to 97 different clubs and within a week we had 47 calls back into either IBM or the business partner asking for a follow-on meeting to see how they could actually take advantage of this same capability. And right now, we’re in the process of qualifying a number of those different opportunities into actual closed deals together with the business partners.

So what’s being indicated there is having an actual customer reference in the industry. Having a partner with the skillset, in this case analytics, and having that partner engaged early on in the joint demand generation efforts that we co-fund. That’s where we’ve seen very high response rates and then a much higher yield on the marketing activity.

Sanjeev: That is a great example, more specifically because small and midmarket would like to know how companies similar to theirs are using these solutions and what benefits they’re getting out of them.

John: Yeah, I think the key is you’re not just talking to the customer about technology but actually listening for their business challenge and in their language that’s relevant to them and their particular industry and turning that technology into a solution to that particular challenge.

So that’s where we’re also working programmatically with a number of our business partners to try to have that intersection point between industry expertise and technical know-how around specific cloud, analytics, mobile and social solution plays that can build on an existing customer reference in the same industry to find new opportunities.

Sanjeev: And I’m sure examples like these will open up new opportunities for IBM not only in accounts that have been familiar with IBM but also net new accounts.

John: Yes.

Sanjeev: Ease of use and the value they’re providing to SMBs.

John: Exactly. Yeah.

Sanjeev: So with IBM having so many products and solutions, how do SMBs find out about some of these new solutions that are innovative, ease to use, cloud-based?

John: A couple of different ways. One is obviously through our business partners. A lot of small and mid-sized businesses treat the business partner almost as their IT department whether it’s a cloud service provider or a more traditional business partner. So, quite often that is an inroad for a customer to start using IBM. In some cases, they may not even know they’re using IBM. It could be an embedded part of a cloud service provider solution that the SMB is buying and it’s actually IBM technology that’s provided there embedded in the solution. So, that’s one way.

Also, through traditional business partners with different solutions that we provide through them. But that is in some ways kind of a second-level connection. It was important for us to also establish a direct connection point for small and mid-sized businesses. In particular, to see what is available in terms of cloud services from IBM and from our business partners.

So, that led us to develop the IBM Cloud Marketplace, which brings together this very broad portfolio of offerings that IBM has itself but also third-party cloud services. And it’s organized, it’s a very simple, you can filter in ways, you can choose by self-identifying, if you like, as a developer or as an IT operations person or as a line of business decision maker. And within the line of business decision making you can choose by horizontal sort of functional area, marketing, human resources, finance, etc. or you can also sort by industry.

So, we’re really trying to use that as an on ramp for a customer to explore some of these solutions that they may not even realize IBM provides. And it could be solutions from third parties. In some cases, they even compete with IBM’s own offerings. We won’t exclude people who have a competing cloud service either. It’s important for us to demonstrate to customers and partners that we want to participate in an eco-system, which is open and allow customers to choose the solutions that best meet their needs, not necessarily force them to buy in the ways that we dictate. So it’s really about being a participant in an active but open eco-system of partners.

Sanjeev: Can SMBs if they go to this marketplace find out solutions that they can try before they buy?

John: Yeah, absolutely. One of the key requirements that we heard was the ability to get a free trial and to have limited free trial period or limited functionality for free for the customer to get a sense for whether this is a good fit. So we have a number of try before you buy type offerings. SoftLayer is one of them. You get a free month of virtual server from SoftLayer. IBM Verse, the communication offering that we mentioned before, has a 90-day free trial. Watson Analytics there’s a free version available, and then depending on which additional sources you want to use, then it steps up into a fee-based offering.

Sanjeev: How transparent is the marketplace for the users or SMBs to see not only the trial solutions but how much is the cloud solution going to cost them on a monthly basis if they do decide to go ahead and acquire that solution?

John: It varies a little bit, depending on the offerings. Obviously, some of the offerings are relatively simple, can be purchased with a credit card, in which case the pricing is clear, up-front on a per-seat, per-month basis which is the case for SoftLayer and some of the other offerings like FiberLink.

Sanjeev: How about like Watson Analytics?

John: Watson Analytics is free right now. We’re moving to additional tiers of fee-based offerings. So the switch should be coming out any time now.

Sanjeev: OK. Thanks. And what resources does IBM have to educate, train SMBs on the adoption of these new solutions? I think some of them you mentioned before. Are there any online videos, information content, online tutorials that can help them with a faster on ramp and different usage scenarios?

John: Yeah. Across every one of these solutions we have a wide range of video tutorials as well as user communities where users can pose questions, comments, share their own experiences as well as more structured tutorial content. Much of this, by the way, is accessible also through the IBM Cloud Marketplace. And so, if you start to explore one particular solution and are looking for more information we usually provide links within that same space to help the user identify more training, white papers and access to the community.

Similarly, by the way, for our business partners we also have a dedicated portal that we’ve just completely revamped called PartnerWorld where we have literally thousands of partners who have access to partner training materials and communities as well.

Sanjeev: OK, great. One last question. Does IBM and its partners have a program to help SMBs migrate from, say, Gmail to a Verse type of a solution?

John: We have several IBM Cloud Certified Business Partners who offer this type of migration, many of who are accessible through the Cloud Marketplace.

Sanjeev: Yeah, because sometimes the issue for SMBs is not only having new and innovative solutions, easy to use solutions available, they need to see how to move to adopt these new solutions based on what they have because in some cases they have lots of existing data.

John: That’s also an opportunity for our business partners to provide their value in the transition and migration type services as well. That’s something that we may not do directly. We, I know, are looking at tools that we could provide to help with that, but it’s also an area that a lot of our business partners have years of expertise in helping migrate from one platform to another.

Sanjeev: Yeah, definitely. I think if you can provide some of these tools to help the business partners make the life of SMBs easier in this migration I think it will go a long way to help both IBM and the partners. Great. Thank you.

John: Sanjeev, one other thing I forgot to mention is also on a cloud infrastructure approach with software, particularly for startups, we’ve also recently introduced a free cloud access On Ramp to help startups get started on using SoftLayer by providing up to $120,000 worth of free usage of SoftLayer for startups. That’s maybe something that they can also consider.

Sanjeev: How can startups can find out about the availability of these resources.

John: That was announced in November and you can view the press release on ibm.com: IBM Global Entrepreneur Program.

Sanjeev: Thanks for this very informative session. I think IBM, at least today, does have a really good roster of products to help SMBs be more productive in their journey to compete with the larger companies. I look forward to seeing the progress some of these solutions make in the upcoming months. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

John: Thanks, Sanjeev. Appreciate the time and I certainly look forward to continuing the discussion. Thank you.

This is the second of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. In the first post, we discuss new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. (link to first post)

SMB Spotlight: IBM’s Midmarket GM Talks About New Strategy and Solutions for SMBs Midmarket Companies (Part 1)

Sanjeev: Hi, this Sanjeev Aggarwal from the SMB Group, and in today’s SMB Spotlight I’m speaking with John Mason, who is IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. Hi John. Thanks for joining me in this two-part discussion about new IBM developments and solutions that are relevant for the midmarket and SMB space. In our first discussion, I’d like to focus on the opportunities that IBM is pursuing in this area.

John: Thank you.

Sanjeev: Now that you’ve been in this role for more than a year, what opportunities do you see for IBM to be more successful in this segment, looking at it from not only the recent products that IBM has announced, but overall?

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John: First of all, Sanjeev, this a unique time in the market particularly for small and mid-sized companies to take advantage of what’s truly a revolutionary change. Not just in terms of the technologies but the economic models that are being disrupted, by not just one technology change but really four: cloud, analytics, mobile and social, which mutually reinforcing each other and changing not just the technology architecture but disrupting whole new business models.

We’ve seen companies like Uber disrupting the taxi industry, Airbnb in hotels, Fitbit, a software customer of IBM, in health and wellness. So, it’s really opening up opportunities for small and mid-sized companies to move very quickly and compete in areas where previously the capital expenditure required to get to scale may have prevented them or certainly been a significant obstacle to building a new business.

Today, particularly thanks to cloud that is no longer a barrier. It’s really not constrained by the availability of capital at this point, so the company that has a disruptive idea can really go after huge opportunities and industries that may not have seemed to lend themselves to disruption. But now, because of the scale and access that companies have thanks to the cloud and thanks to mobile and social creating this massive data that can then be analyzed and used to get insight, companies of all sizes can essentially disrupt industries and find ways to compete and add value to their customers in ways that maybe they could never have even imagined before.

Sanjeev: Surely I definitely agree with you there. But quickly looking at the opportunities cloud solutions create for SMBs, how do you see IBM, with some of the recently introduced products like IBM Verse and Watson Analytics, helping SMBs and midmarket companies?

John: I would start, first of all at the infrastructure layer, where about a year and a half ago we acquired a company called SoftLayer, which is our Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS) offering. So that really is the key enabler of providing access to cloud, whether it’s simple public cloud, bare metal server that can be dedicated or private cloud implementations.

On top of that infrastructure we introduced last year our Platform as a Service(PaaS) offering called BlueMix, which lets small and mid-sized businesses and developers in larger companies quickly develop new cloud services and applications, prototype, try something and then quickly deploy and adapt using agile methodologies, for example, to really respond quickly, and again, with minimal upfront capital expense.

But with very simple tools that provide templates to remove some of the tedious coding parts of developing any new cloud service with reusable modules, so it really speeds up development, prototyping and deployment.

And then, on top of the Infrastructure as a Service and then the Platform as a Service, with BlueMix we also have literally over 100 Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, some of which are really more targeted at larger enterprises. But increasingly, we’re also adding some very simple, easy-to-use, fast offerings that are designed, from the ground up really, for small and mid-sized companies to take advantage of.

So you mentioned Watson Analytics, which I think is one of the most exciting new areas for any line of business user. It’s I think as relevant for someone working in a marketing department of a large company or sales department of a small company. To take a set of data sitting in a spreadsheet or other sources that we’re adding over time and use Watson Analytics to cleanse the data and start to arrange it in ways and visualize it so that the user can quickly derive some meaningful insight from what may previously just have been a collection of numbers.

With very sort of natural language query, you don’t have to have a data scientist sitting next to you during the interpretation of what the business need into some complex algorithm. It will use natural language querying and cognition to provide answers to relatively simple business questions based on simple sources of data like an Excel spreadsheet. That’s one example.

You mentioned IBM Verse as well, which again, is very simple. In this case, a communications and collaboration tool delivered on top of the software cloud infrastructure and also guided by analytics at its core to learn from the user behavior and adapt to how that particular user works to really provide instant usable interaction and collaboration.

It’s optimized for mobile and web environments and provides the most relevant communication with the people that you interact with most. Rather than having to sort through long lists of emails or other forms of communication, it’s all there in one simple interface provided in a way that you can use and in the way that you like to work.

These are newer cloud services that we’ve introduced. We’re using agile methodologies to respond quickly as we get these out. In the case of both Watson Analytics and IBM Verse, they’re both available in a freemium model. So, our objective here is to get it in the hands of lots of people, get user feedback and then quickly respond based on the feedback in real life use situations to tune the product and continue to improve it. So, that’s something that we are looking forward to seeing rapid iterations to continue the improved user experience.

Sanjeev: So, what has been the feedback from some of the early adopters of these solutions, especially as it relates to ease of use and the value that they’re getting from using these solutions?

John: Well, I think ease of use was at the core of both the Verse and the Watson Analytics development. They actually came out of our new digital experience labs and were designed with, by and for millennials in a sense. Our belief going into the development of those products was that if we could satisfy millennial users then we would probably also satisfy other groups of users.

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive but I think also continued requests for more ease of use, more sort of guided initial training and at least tutorials to help people get started. The teams have been taking a lot of feedback and working on easier on ramps to the products. Which I think, once users start using them, they start to get comfortable and see the value. The challenging phase is that very first usage experience. That’s why a lot of the current focus is to continue to improve that on ramp experience.

This is the first of a two-part SMB Spotlight interview with John Mason, IBM’s General Manager for Midmarket. In the second post, we discuss how IBM is making its new solutions more accessible to SMB and midmarket companies and channel partners. (link to second post)

February 23, 2015

SMB Use of Company Managed Websites and Social Sites

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