IBM opens SMB research lab in China

IBM said Thursday it opened a new research center in Beijing aimed at serving SMB (small and medium-sized business) customers in China and elsewhere.

IBM's "SMB Innovation Center" will be an extension to its existing China Research Lab, which will double in size to accommodate the new facility. Several hundred researchers currently staff IBM's China lab, executives said.

The lab recently moved to a new location near two Asian technical universities, Beijing University and Tsinghua University. IBM Vice President of Global Emerging Marketplaces Dave Carlquist said the company envisions the area as a research corridor akin to the Charles River stretch of Cambridge, Massachusetts, which links Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"The (SMB) customer base has never had access to research on this scale," IBM Research Vice President of Emerging Business Cathy Lasser said on a conference call following the center's announcement. "Our competitors can't match our depth in scientific and technical talent."

IBM's intention is to use the center's development resources to work directly with customers and third-party ISVs (independent software vendors) on specific business problems. A pilot project matched IBM researchers with staff from Chinese distribution software maker Efuture Information Tech to develop a bundled solution tying together IBM's hardware and middleware software with Efuture's SCM (supply chain management) applications.

IBM sees a large business opportunity in China's SMB market, but also expects technology developed in its Beijing lab to be transferable elsewhere in the world, according to Carlquist.

"The physical lab is based in Beijing, but this is intended to be a global resource," he said.

IBM declined to comment on the size of its financial investment in its expanded facility. Increasing IBM's presence in the SMB market has been a corporate goal for the past several years, a strategy IBM is pursuing largely through expanded partnership initiatives with application makers and local services firms.

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