IBM recently announced an interesting new one-stop-shop system designed to simplify the complex task of organizing all the technology a small business needs. In fact, IBM's kind of copying Apple's model.
The basic idea of the Smart Business system is you'll need just one "pre-integrated automated appliance" to cover email, system security, and calendar management. IBM's partnered with Intuit and is delivering that company's QuickBooks accounting software as part of the package, so there's also a full financial management/payroll suite. The system is designed to be so easy to set up, IBM's even saying "Clients will no longer require manuals or CDs to install and configure their technology and can count on IBM as a single source of technical support."
But there's more: in addition to the Smart Cube—the hardware and software—there's also Smart Market. That's a Web-based central marketplace that fully integrates with the Smart system. IBM says its designed for clients "to browse and rate and download applications or collaborate with other clients, industry experts and vendors from around the world." And finally the whole thing is managed through Smart Desk, a Web-based dashboard that's the single contact point for maintaining the system, auto-updating apps, or subscribing to remotely-managed security services. Through it you can even access IBM's own Cloud Services, which will remotely back-up your system, and provide recovery options should anything go wrong.
Doesn't sound like Apple? Think of the iPhone—everything you need in terms of communications and personal entertainment in a box. Then think of the iTunes ecosystem: This manages your iPhone's software, you can download new apps from the iTunes Store through it, connect to the cloud-based MobileMe service, it automatically sorts out back-ups and system recovery and you can connect to Apple to manage your accounts too.
Okay, so it's a slightly fuzzy comparison—but you get the point. Given that hardware and software set-ups are notoriously tricky, and access to technical staff may not be easy for smaller companies, it looks like IBM's leveraging the best bits of Apple's iPhone/iTunes ecosystem and using it to build a small-business-in-a-box solution. You could, of course, point out that buying the Smart Business ties your nascent business rather strongly to IBM, and that later upgrades would likely go IBM's way just because it appears simpler—but that would be being surly.