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IBM expands middle market campaign

Big Blue introduces new editions to its express software portfolio as well as hardware bundles and services products that are targeted at its partners and smaller businesses.

IBM is stepping up its campaign to draw customers from midsize businesses, reheating the battle that pits Big Blue against Microsoft at the software giant's power base.

The company on Monday plans to announce extensions to its "express" portfolio of software and hardware bundles. The products and financing options are designed to appeal to midsize businesses and to the distributors and consultants that service smaller organizations.

First introduced this summer, the express line includes editions of IBM's software products, which have been reworked with quicker installation and simplified configuration for midsize companies. The express products and a $500 million program to recruit partners are the centerpieces of IBM's plans to penetrate the middle market, according to the company.

Marc Lautenbach, IBM's general manager of global small and medium business, on Wednesday touted the company's success in the past year. He said the quarterly revenue growth has climbed the last three quarters, reaching 10 percent growth in the third quarter. >

IBM competitors such as Oracle and Microsoft are also revving up their efforts to generate earnings from smaller organizations.

"Microsoft has participated in this market for a long time, but they seem to be a lot more focused in the last 30 days," Lautenbach said. "It's not lost on them that we've signed on over 100 ISVs (independent software providers) to use our middleware."

IBM said it will release integration software next week that's targeted at small and midsize companies that need to share distribution and manufacturing information with supply chain partners.

The WebSphere Business Integration Express for Item Synchronization, priced at $7,000, supports the UCCnet KnowledgeBase data exchange standard, which is designed to streamline electronic trade. Wal-Mart Stores earlier this year told its suppliers to move to the UCCnet standard by January 2004.

Other software packages that are now part of IBM's express line include mobile database DB2 Everyplace Express, DB2 Content Manager Express, and IBM PLM (product lifecycle management) Express, which enables companies to share product design information with manufacturing partners.

On the professional services side, IBM Global Services is offering a hosted service to midsize customers called SurfAid Express. The service, which costs $100 per month, gives companies statistics on how customers are using Web sites to improve site layout.

IBM is also bundling up its server and client PCs for the middle market. The company has created "IBM Express Ready Offerings," which are bundles of its hardware servers with storage devices, and an IBM Think Express program has notebooks and desktop PCs that are priced below $2,000 to appeal to the middle market. Both hardware bundles give distributors the option to finance the purchase of the hardware through IBM.