IBM will roll out a program to recruit developers that can deliver applications to that market faster.
The company's ISV Advantage Initiative will see IBM forging relationships with key developers that will create applications and solutions for IBM's more popular hardware platforms, including the xSeries and pSeries, and the Express versions of its server-based applications such as DB2 and WebSphere.
"The focus here is to create a broader ecosystem of partners made up of ISVs that will be focused on the application needs of SMBs. IBM will give these developers access to whatever technical resources they need to get it done," said a source familiar with the company's plans.
The initiative picks up where IBM's "alliance lites" programme dropped off a few years ago, according to one industry observer. Then, the company attempted to create partnerships with smaller suppliers going after vertical or certain geographic markets.
This latest attempt however, "appears to have more structure around it", said one source.
"The logical path for IBM [with this program] to take here is to become a conduit that connects these ISVs to all of its own major divisions, which should give them an advantage over Microsoft's efforts, particularly among madcap companies," said another source.
One of the key partners IBM is close to signing is Intuit, the maker of Quick Books, the leading accounting package designed for SMBs. Intuit could serve as an attraction for IBM's SMB campaign against Microsoft as both companies clash in the middle of what is, arguably, the industry's fastest growing market.
"I think IBM will be making a point that instead of trying to buy its competition [referring to Microsoft's attempt to acquire Intuit a few years ago], or compete against them it would rather work with them," said one industry observer.
The decision to begin partnering with smaller and more specialised ISVs goes back to IBM's decision made in 1999 to not be a direct participant in the lower end of the applications market. Some believe it will be important for IBM to stay true to that commitment and not wander into competitive waters with its own ISVs.
"They put a stake in the ground to say this would be their strategy, but it will always remain tempting to go after some of these lower-end opportunities," said one source.