When IBM unveiled SmartCloud Docs this week, Ed Brill's fingerprints were all over the announcement. As director of product line management for IBM Collaboration Solutions, Brill wants to compete aggressively against Google Docs, Office 2013 and other productivity suites.

But take a closer look and you'll see that Brill and IBM have a much larger strategy in mind. It includes a complete cloud suite plus continued investments in on-premises software and appliances -- backed by channel partners. "We believe in the cloud but we also believe in [on premises] software and appliances. We're not allergic to software like Salesforce.com, and we're not like Google saying everything should be delivered as a service."

Instead, IBM is develivering a "complete set" of collaboration tools both on premises and in the cloud. SmartCloud Docs -- featuring cloud-based document, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities -- therefore is only one piece of a much larger SaaS and on-premises strategy at IBM. But it's an important piece. With the Docs launch, "we feel like our portfolio in the collaboration space is now very complete," said Brill. 

Public Cloud First

Near term, IBM will push SmartCloud Docs as a SaaS platform but longer term there will also be an on-premises version for companies that prefer to run and manage the suite in private clouds. IBM has completed a proof-of-concept of the private cloud approach with a German financial services company but the big push right now is the public cloud version, where "we're controlling all the moving parts," said Brill.

Already, IBM is seeing interest from verticals like manufacturing, retail and travel and transportation. Early adopters in the broader IBM SmartCloud strategy include Panasonic, which has "hundreds of thousands of users on the global basis. They're the type of customer excited about adding the Docs capabilities."

Brill also thinks SmartCloud Docs will catch on with small businesses that don't have internal IT management teams.

Channel Partner Program

IBM already offers a SmartCloud certification program for business partners. It covers everything from architecture to deployment. Also, telcos and MSPs are signing application specific licensing (ASL) agreements to wrap their own service and support around the IBM SaaS applications.

On a global front IBM has SmartCloud data centers in the U.S. and Japan, and the company has cleared various safe harbor certifications for the European Union and Swiss environments, so it's safe to say IBM is pushing into more and more markets.

Near-term Priorities

Brill wants to make sure that partners and customers understand IBM Is "serious about contending in this space. Adding Docs assures we have a complete [SmartCloud] solution. Now that we have that, we want to further integrate third-party tools and applications that are already running in customer sites."

And ultimately, IBM wants to make it easier and easier to onboard SmartCloud customers. That could mean key opportunities for channel partners.