IBM's 'click to buy' consulting services look beyond just IT

The services also give IBM a low-cost way to expand the reach of its sales arm, according to one analyst

IBM hopes to expand its customer base and sell to executives outside of IT, including marketers, with a new set of consulting services that can be bought online with a credit card.

IBM introduced five offerings as part of its new Global Business Services Online. Just one of this initial group is targeted at non-IT users, but IBM says it will offer more services in future that are aimed at workers in other areas of the business.

The first service that looks beyond IT is called Social Media Analytics and Customer Insights, for analyzing what's being said about a company's brands, products and competitors on social media.

The other four services cover an analysis of a customer's software development environment; migrating mobile applications to IBM's Worklight platform; a "technical healthcheck" for SAP applications; and a "performance roadmap" for Oracle applications.

In February, Forrester Research predicted that the percentage of IT purchases made "primarily or exclusively" by CIOs and their staff will fall from 55 percent this year to 47 percent next year.

IBM will take advantage of the trend by adding more services aimed at line of business executives outside of IT, according to Sarah Diamond, general manager of IBM global consulting services.

"We've just started with this first grouping to test the way our current clients respond," Diamond said. "By design, this is very much just a first wave. While the CIO remains central to buying decisions, it's no longer the CIO alone."

The notion of business executives making their own IT buying decisions isn't really new, said analyst Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT consulting firm Strativa, via email. "It started back in the early 1980s, when they started buying PCs and Lotus 1-2-3," he said.

But the rise of cloud services and mobile applications has increased the trend, he said.

Cloud software providers like Salesforce.com "have been making hay for years" selling directly to sales executives, Scavo added. "This creates a problem not only for the CIO but also for service providers like IBM, who historically have only dealt with the IT department."

It's no wonder, then, that IBM wants to broaden its audience outside of IT. "Otherwise, it's going to lose influence," Scavo said.

Beyond reaching new types of customers, the online services give IBM a low-cost way to extend the reach of its sales force, according to IDC analyst Gard Little. "There's a limit to how many salespeople you want to hire," he said. "This is a way to soak up demand for services without additional armies of salespeople."

The packages also represent vendors' long-standing goal of "productizing services -- making them as tangible as possible, so salespeople who aren't services experts can sell them," Little said.

IBM sees the online services as a way to start building a broader relationship with new customers, Diamond said. "You don't always need to start with a face-to-face call."

The services are fixed-price, although the actual cost will depend on the options customers select. Availability is limited for now to the U.S. and U.K., although IBM has plans to offer them globally, Diamond said.

Some prerequisites apply. For example, customers interested in the social media analysis service will need to have a subscription to IBM's Social Media Analytics Software as a Service. In other cases, like the SAP health check, customers will have to supply some historical data, provide access to subject matter experts, and install tools from IBM or its partners.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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