IBM Snags Bluewolf for Salesforce Chops

IBM on Thursday announced that it has agreed to buyBluewolf, a Salesforce system integrator.

It reportedly will pay US$200 million.

Bluewolf will provide cloud consulting and implementation capabilities as part of IBM Global Business Services’ Interactive Experience practice. The aim is to deliver differentiated, cloud-based, consumer-grade experiences, IBM said.

The deal, scheduled to close in Q2, will position IBM for both midmarket and enterprise clients in the Salesforce professional services industry, which is pegged at $111 billion, IBM said.

Bluewolf will continue to develop solutions around Salesforce industry implementations based on its library of industry-specific assets, accelerators and mutual expertise in various vertical markets, including healthcare, manufacturing, the public sector, financial services, higher education and new media.

Acquiring Expertise

“Seems to me IBM bought the expertise they don’t have in-house,” observed Denis Pombriant, principal at Beagle Research Group. “Bluewolf has a wealth of knowledge about how to build apps on Salesforce for multiple different platforms.”

IBM “is looking for ways to pump up its professional services business,” said Mike Jude, a research program manager at Frost & Sullivan.

“Remember that IBM turned away from technology and towards services some time ago, and has since been looking for points of resonance in the professional marketplace [where] Bluewolf has a great deal of experience,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Going Into CRM

The Bluewolf acquisition is the second CRM company purchase IBM has announced this month, the first beingOptevia, which specializes in the public sector market in the UK.

The Bluewolf purchase “is another step in IBM acquiring partners that have a cloud implementation and services model,” pointed out Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research. It “also further indicates that IBM’s moving into the CRM space beyond the Sugar partnership and recent Microsoft partner announcements.”

Buying Bluewolf “gives IBM significant bench strength in Salesforce implementations — obviously a growing competitive field and a skill set that’s important to many existing IBM clients,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

However, “the battle is over and IBM would be invading CRM for no good reason,” Beagle Research Group’s Pombriant told the E-Commerce Times. “They don’t bring anything that can’t be found elsewhere in Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte and many others.”

Realigning the Market?

IBM’s push into CRM may not impact the industry much because CRM is a “pretty mature market with defined leaders who are not IBM,” he said.

That said, the company’s deep pockets might tip the balance in its favor.

“Any time IBM starts playing in a market, you can expect things to rearrange themselves fairly quickly,” Jude commented. It “will definitely give the other participants pause.”

The company “has been fashionably late to the party many times, only to buy its way into a respectable position,” Pombriant acknowledged. “They have a lot of capital and are looking for businesses that can scale.”

Expect more acquisitions in this space, Wettemann predicted, as increasing numbers of traditional vendors and their systems move to cloud implementations.

Competition or Cooperation?

By purchasing Bluewolf, IBM will become more of a player in the Salesforce space.

“It will be interesting to see how Bluewolf, as IBM, treats competitive situations where IBM’s Marketing Cloud, with Silverpop and Unica, is up against Salesforce’s capabilities,” Wettemann noted.

Since Bluewolf is Salesforce-centric, the purchase “places IBM and Salesforce in a weird position with respect to each other,” Frost’s Jude said. “Is it coopetition or will it be?”

“Salesforce has been playing in IBM’s space for a while with some very large clients,” Pombriant said. “I’m sure IBM had no adequate answer to why customers should go to third parties and away from IBM for cloud/Salesforce apps. This helps to change all that.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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