As we come to the end of the year it is a time to reflect.  And before I begin I must caution this is not for the timid souls out there. Unlike some of my counterparts, I believe direct, East Coast style honesty is a better policy if you truly believe in a business such as IBM, which I do.   (That  said, I live in “soft” Austin and was born in “softer” Northern California.)   Sure they get “pissy” at first, but hopefully IBM is still IBM and like any 100+ year company knows it’s a marathon, not a sprint and no one improves drinking their own Kool-Aid or anyone else’s Kool-Aid for that matter.

This year IBM changed the Tivoli brand, and like the pop star Prince did some years ago, they changed it from Tivoli to “the brand formerly known as Tivoli” (since no one can remember the new name anyway.) As a result IBM couldn’t sell itself out of a What’sUpGold bake off.  At the start of March in “Pulse” IBM promised, much like Obama after the train wreck of Bush, that CHANGE is coming SOON.  So as we enter the Xmas season and are still waiting for SOON, I hope IBM’s promise isn’t akin to Jesus’ promise of SOON as that has been 2,000 years and counting.  (And yes as a moderate I am saying this in reference to both Obama’s and IBM’s promise of CHANGE – but not Jesus’ (insert the Catholic  ritual sign of the cross – oh wait I am Protestant – damn.)

Though it may not actually be 2,000 years since IBM’s promise – in business cycles it has been that long.  Scrolling down any Tivoli LinkedIn Group you can see in the flurry of empty promotional posts there are a couple likes and almost no comment. Further the comments that are there are unabashed self replies in order to force the post to appear in the periodic emails that go out (that no one reads anyway.) (And yes, if this is on a LinkedIn group – I am talking about this post as well 😉  Some big Tivoli VARS (that I shall not name) have needed to completely gut their operations as the IBM sales and marketing machine has completely stumbled at the starting blocks. At the core, as far as I can see, there are two problems at IBM: 1) drinking too much of the Global Economy Kool-Aid and 2) drinking a bit too much of the IBM Kool-Aid.

The First problem, Drinking the Global Economy Kool-Aid, has been a long slow process. This is seen in everything from staffing to its sales strategy.  The United States is rooted in a culture that: kicks its kids out of the parents bed before the age of 1, forces children to find their own wives, religion, and pretty much everything. We like to think we are more like democratic Athens, but when it comes to home life we are more like Sparta. Though that creates a culture with a high poverty, murder, and suicides, it also forces every single person in the United States to think outside of the box and favors those on the spectrum of ADHD, bipolar, OCD, autism, etc.   (And yes I am both ADHD and autistic if you couldn’t figure that out already from the forthright and edgy writing.)   On the flipside (as every weakness is a strength) it makes our culture incredibly self aware and innovative.  The rest of the world (thank god as we do need a balance) is less so.   IBM, like many corporations, went for the mid range strategy rather than the long range strategy. The mid range strategy is to relocate to the areas of the world with the most growth –  Asia and Africa. What they forget is that in doing so they are adopting those cultures.  Even true Blue IBM is not “above” this.  This has translated into everything from saving a few bucks by gutting the high end talent to changing the sales reviews from bi yearly to a weekly process — I mean who with more than a year of experience under their belt thinks that is a good idea?!  That is like when Microsoft when starting their Cloud offering opened their interviews with: “you have lines of people out your cube, your phone ringing off the hook, and your manager outside your cube on a critical issue – who do you help first?”  The Global Economy Kool-Aid drinker tries to work within the paradigm set and figure out how to parse the situation. The United States “kicked to the curb” raised American answers – “Well, I look around and realize in 6 months not a single person in this cube environment will be left and all knowledge lost.  If I want this new “flag ship” to actually be a “flag ship” I would pull the manger in and say – “Forget the critical issue we won’t have a business in one to three years – either you step up or I will take your job. Now leave I have to ignore this mess and compose a letter to your manager in order to prompt change – and I don’t mean in the Obama way.”

The Second problem, Drinking the IBM Kool-Aid, is much more recent and in many ways an extension of the first problem.  Much like Toronto’s mayor the drinking problem, IBM’s Global drinking problem has pervaded very, very deep.  Once upon a time IBM realized who it was.  It realized it could not spark the PC revolution and so found two small nimble startups – Microsoft and Intel to do what it couldn’t and yet in doing so change the world for the better.  That is the great strength of who IBM is and why IBM has persisted for over 100 years.  More recently the Global Economy drinking problem has swayed its judgment.  It started to listen to its marketing – “We are innovators; we come up with cool stuff! Heck we made Watson and were on Jeopardy!”  But when you look behind the scenes what becomes apparent is – No, you are integrators. You see in other companies what they do well and are great at buying or stomping them out and promoting and selling their achievements as your own.”  Somewhere in the last two years IBM forgot this truth and instead drunk too deeply of their own sales and marketing. They started to actually believe they could innovate like a small, young, and nimble company. The reality is companies are like people this way.  IBM is an old man with lots of wisdom and the ability to focus, but not so much energy. That is, in short what we have seen this year.  IBM went to do a sprint instead of a marathon this year.  While the rest of the contestants have crossed the finish line, IBM is still on the starting blocks with a bum knee, scratching its butt.

All this goes back to the post I did a couple days ago ( ).  The first phrase over the temple of Delphi was – “Know thyself”  IBM has completely forgotten who they are and their place in the world.  They have drunk too much of the worlds and their own Kool-Aid (aka sales and marketing.) It is time IBM pulls back, takes a deep self assessment, and does some house cleaning. But instead of knocking out their foundation – the engineers, sales, and people actually doing the work, they need to look at the upper ranks, the folks that should be thinking long range and strategically (indicative of a 100+ year business), instead of quarter to quarter, paycheck to paycheck. So in short many of us are hopeful that IBM will grow up and grow a pair in the face of the shifts in the global economy and stand up for who they are and what they used to represent – the high end of  the market, not the Wall-Mart lowest price leader.

Leave a Reply

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image