IBMs Mills: Integration Propels Industry Growth

Q&A: Company software chief Steve Mills says technology is not foolproof, and that enterprises should instead focus on building smarter business processes.

Steve Mills has been senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software since July 2000. Mills is responsible for IBMs overall software strategy and for managing the Armonk, N.Y., companys $14 billion software business. He met with eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist last week at IBMs PartnerWorld conference in Las Vegas.

Any calls from Hewlett-Packard Co.s board about a job opening at HP?

No comment [laughs]. That will be a unique challenge for somebody.

Vendors continue to offer stronger, more efficient system administration and management tools. Yet we read about Bank of America losing customer information tapes, ChoicePoint Inc. losing customer information and the FBIs Virtual Case File program being scrubbed. Where is the disconnect?

Is that a technology statement or a process question? There is no foolproof technology. Technology has great benefits, but how you use it determines what value you are going to get. The question is about their processes and procedures. Did they have operational issues that resulted in problems?

But can technology address problems such as those?

It is a combination of technology and process. You can make a system procedurally and architecturally very secure but still have theft and fraud from inside information.

Is it on your agenda to deal more strongly with authentication?

We are the biggest player in authentication. We are getting good growth in that product area, but I will tell you the business we currently see there is less than the amount of business you would think, based upon the answers to surveys on security. The rate at which these technologies are being deployed is nowhere as fast as the rhetoric.

Is the opportunity still there for companies to invest in technology to become more productive?

The opportunity is there. In most companies, the low-hanging fruit has been picked. You are now into more complex problems of efficiency. There are still interesting opportunity areas in cost avoidance, including help desk efficiency [and] improved security.

Bill Gates recently authored a memo stating that interoperability is important. Response?

Thank you, Bill. This is not news. Microsoft [Corp.] is inching toward interoperability. It is a big world, and they have reached a point in their size and growth rate where, if they cant live in the larger world, they will have a hard time growing their business.

Has Linux adoption been restrained by ongoing legal issues?

If you look at the data, it is not apparent Linux adoption has slowed down appreciably. Companies express concern, but on the other hand, they are still deploying Linux.

Five years ago, IBM said it is not going into the application business. Lots of commentators said IBM would have to renege on that promise, but IBM has done quite well with that strategy. Whats the aspect of IBM strategy now that people are unsure of but you feel will be proved right?

The on-demand strategy as we defined it in 2002 is exactly right-on. It is defined as business process integration. It talked about the vision of being an on-demand business and integration of processes and efficiencies. The integration story fuels the industry. Middleware technology decisions are every bit as important as application decisions. This view of where businesses want to go and how our technology matches has proven to be true to a greater degree every year.

Does the Oracle Corp. acquisition of PeopleSoft Inc. present unique opportunities and challenges?

As always, we have to participate in the ecosystems of others—even when they are competitors. We do sell a lot of software to companies that use Oracle apps and Oracle databases. Now that PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards are part of Oracle, we will have to continue that process. It will certainly make it more challenging in the database world.


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