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Today IBM launched ExperienceOne, a new integrated portfolio of offerings to help organizations bring marketing, sales, and service together. It’s also a single label to pin on a vast $3 billion array of acquisitions, software, and services that IBM has bought and built over the past five years in the marketing, e-commerce, and — yes — hosting/cloud industries.

The purpose? Pretty much Salesforce1.

Certainly, however, with a significantly different implementation. And, perhaps, as IBM would argue, a much different availability horizon — as in now, not in the distant mists of imagined futures.

“Elate [the platform’s code-name] is the point at which all the acquisitions we’ve made and all the work we’ve done in integration comes to market,” IBM’s VP Kevin Bishop told me yesterday. “It’s more than marketing, it’s beyond a marketing cloud, it’s about how you delight your customer in every single interaction.”

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Hence the working name, I suppose.

Not a marketing cloud

If you google “IBM marketing cloud,” you won’t find an exact match. That’s because in spite of the fact that competitors such as Adobe, Oracle, Salesforce, DemandBase, and Sitecore have rushed to build and buy massive unified sets of largely cloud-based software to help companies understand and influence the customer buying journey, IBM has a different take on enterprise needs.

no software salesforceFirst, IBM says it’s about more than customer acquisition; it’s also about customer service and customer retention. “It’s the whole customer journey,” Bishop said. That’s pretty much Salesforce1 in a nutshell, since Salesforce’s view of the future is a hyper-connected web of data allowing companies to deliver personalized digital experiences to people who don’t know them, are starting to be aware of them, are buying from them, have bought from them, need service and support from them, and regularly buy from them.

Our recently-updated VB Marketing Automation index has insights from over 1,000 digital marketers.

This is very au courant in enterprise software circles, but it’s not a new concept, since it’s also exactly what Microsoft is doing with Dynamics, building a complete customer listening, engagement, marketing, selling, and servicing platform.

But IBM does have a different take from Salesforce.

Because secondly, it’s not just cloud, it’s also on-premises. “We will go head to head with any marketing cloud provider,” Bishop said pugnaciously. “But some industries are very hesitant about cloud … so we provide on-premise as well as cloud.”

A three-layer sandwich

I almost dismissed ExperienceOne out of hand when viewing the pre-release information IBM sent. At first glance, the initiative looks typical old-school enterprise: big, wordy, difficult to understand, and just the sort of thing that gives CFOs nightmares involving rapid concurrent transfers of consultants in and dollars out. Calling it ExperienceOne just furthers that impression.

And some of that might be true.

sms-telesignAt its core, however, ExperienceOne is a three-layer sandwich. At the top is a single, unified solution site via which IBM customers can interact with all the software they’re using to understand their customers. In the middle is a growing set of “solution patterns” that IBM has created based on its work with literally thousands of global corporations that help companies plug into an existing set of solutions, processes, and software to manage business operations that are common to many companies. And at the bottom is a layer of products that IBM has integrated and which Bishop is positioning to better align within ExperienceOne.

The most interesting, perhaps, is the middle layer of solutions, which builds real-time automated customer service capability into your enterprise technology stack.

“For example, one of our partners is ING Bank,” Bishop told me. “If you use one of their cash machines and walk away with your card but not your money — apparently this is fairly common — the bank will send you an SMS right away. If you don’t go back, the machine swallows your money, and you can go back later and withdraw it again.”

To make that work, you need customer data — like mobile numbers. You need sensors built into your cash machines and hooks into the software that runs them. You need an intelligent infrastructure with business rules that can kick off customer communications via SMS. And you need to be able to process it all, potentially worldwide, in real-time.

The result, however, is impressive customer service — a truly helpful service that is likely to help create a very positive brand image.

“Our emphasis is on our clients’ success,” Bishop told me. “The solutions are about actually delivering value their customers.”

The whole and the sum of the parts

Those solutions come from IBM acquisitions like Unica (B2B marketing automation) and Coremetrics (web analytics), Tealeaf (customer experience analytics) and Star Analytics (business analytics). IBM’s newest purchase, Silverpop, is represented in ExperienceOne, as is SoftLayer, which powers some of the cloud capabilities. Xtify provides some of the mobile messaging. And, of course, there are solutions built directly by Big Blue, including WebSphere for commerce, and other customer digital experience tools.

IBM is excited to come out with this massive mishmash of functionality in one platform. “It’s a big day for us,” Bishop said.

The question is, however, will customers feel the same way after biting into the sandwich? Bishop acknowledged that work is still ongoing in terms of presenting and naming the solutions so it becomes more clear what they are and how they fit in. And integration is a tricky business. In the end, customers will have the last word in determining whether or not IBM was successful.

Cloud by SoftLayer

IBM wants to stay a completely viable option for non-cloud-oriented companies. That makes sense given that VMware says 92 percent of “cloud” is actually on-premises cloud. But IBM also wants to position itself well for the fast-growing, loudest, and more innovative sectors of cloud: public cloud.

And fortunately, Big Blue has just the $2 billion toy to do it with: recent acquisition SoftLayer.

Via hosting and cloud provider SoftLayer, which was the largest independent hosting company prior to its acquisition, IBM will deliver CDaaS, CAaaS, and DCaaS: Customer Data as a Service, Customer Analytics as a Service, and Digital Commerce as a Service.

IBM has huge penetration in the largest enterprises that are reluctant to move to public cloud — the company says it has seven of the top 10 banks, financial service companies, and U.S. retailers — so those companies can use ExperienceOne at home, so to speak. But newer and more software-oriented companies can access these functionalities via SoftLayer.

Or they can use some in private cloud and some in public, with the real or perceived privacy benefits that private cloud affords:

“Smarter Commerce is about helping clients continuously reinvent themselves around the customer experience,” said Craig Hayman, General Manager of Industry Cloud Solutions at IBM. “With cloud, on-premise, and hybrid options, IBM ExperienceOne quickly scales to engage every customer in the moment while protecting their privacy.”

What companies will pay for

It’s hard to argue against the vision embodied in ExperienceOne. Customer stories like the ING Bank example are exactly how most of us want to be treated as customers. But it would be a mistake to assume that all the current “marketing clouds” are just about new customers … just about marketing.

I asked Adobe VP Suresh Vittal about his company’s marketing cloud and existing customers — and whether the Adobe Marketing Cloud is also about customer service, despite the name.

“I think so,” he said. “If you think about it, solutions like Adobe Media Optimizer very much focus at the top of the funnel … but Experience Manager is all about ongoing interaction with the customer base, and Analytics spans the entire world of new and existing customers. We believe this is for the full customer journey.”

It sounds like the vision behind ExperienceOne and Salesforce1 and Microsoft’s new Dynamics-for-everything is all fairly consistent. Which means, as usual, who wins and who loses will come down to execution.

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