IBM Aims for Developers

$1B program announced; some see difficulty ahead.

IBM is pulling out all the stops to woo ISVs and business partners into working with the systems company to help support the burgeoning small- and midsize-business customer through increased software development.

But some developers said the company, while making inroads in development, will have a difficult time competing against the vast and ever-expanding development community that Microsoft Corp. has constructed and managed over the years—a key component for success.

At its PartnerWorld conference here last week, the Armonk, N.Y., company unveiled plans to invest $1 billion toward working with its ISV partners this year.

Key to that investment will be the new PartnerWorld Industry Networks for ISVs program, which realigns other IBM ISV programs to better enable the companys ISV partners to go after business industry by industry.

Under the program, IBM is delivering Web-based communities that will facilitate the development of industry-specific solutions, said Buell Duncan, general manager of IBM ISV and developer relations. The first six industries covered will be banking, financial markets, health care, life sciences, retail and communications.

IBM will announce five more in the middle of the year and another five after that, Duncan said.

But some ISVs wonder whether the IBM investment will be enough to lure ISVs from Microsoft, which has a strong hold on the SMB market. "IBM has been making announcements like this for years, yet IBM continues to lag far behind Microsoft when it comes to community," said Stephen Forte, chief technology officer at Corzen Inc., in New York. Forte said the difference to him is not in programs but in simply how the companies treat their developers.

"The differences are so small it now comes down to tools, support and community, an area [in which] Microsoft cant be touched," said Forte. "As a developer, Microsoft treats me like gold. Microsoft is a company run by developers for developers. Also, look at the heads of IBM versus Microsoft. Microsoft is run by a developer."

Brad McCabe, technology evangelist at Infragistics Inc., in East Windsor, N.J., said his company supports both Java and Microsofts .Net and would follow IBM in the SMB space if it saw potential growth. "The key for us is building a developer community," McCabe said. However, he said, "I worked with many SMBs doing development work, and IBM has a tough road ahead of them."

Such feelings do not deter Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBMs Software Group. "I hope we finally get to the point where we have too many partners," Mills said during a speech here last week. "There are thousands and thousands of companies that wed like to reach that we dont reach today."

"IBM can cite a number of current references that changed their strategies because they feared Microsoft would put them out of business," said John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif. "Some of the ISVs have talked about finding themselves suddenly competing with Microsoft, which is a losing proposition for all but the biggest ISVs.

"IBM offers an apparently safe haven. But theres more. IBM has also been providing free software, ample support and access to its sales pipelines to many of these ISVs," Rymer said. "The market is still very tight, and so sales leads from IBM can mean the difference between growth and stagnation for many of the smaller ISVs."