Sorry Seems to Be the Easiest Word

These are tough times. Dwelling on past mistakes does no one any good.

A strange thing is happening in the industry, and it cant be good. Billion-dollar vendors are apologizing for doing what theyre supposed to do. Rather than blame a massive downturn in technology spending on the post-Internet bubble, the year 2000 buildup of tech expenditures, corporate ethical collapses, terrorist attacks or simply plain-old business cycles, many vendors have issued a collective "Im sorry."

One of the first to apologize was Tom Siebel, who said vendors including Siebel Systems made software too complex. Then Larry Ellison said Oracle was also to blame for selling too many databases and for spending 25 years getting technology wrong. Ray Lane, the former No. 2 at Oracle, blamed the buying and selling process. Prior to this, Microsoft issued a huge apology for concentrating on features and not on security. Microsofts Trustworthy Computing initiative emerged out of that mea culpa.

Sun, meanwhile, admitted that its software strategy was confusing and that its Java messaging had been obscured. Computer Associates has said in the past that it was obscuring its technologies under incomprehensible branding strategies based around Jasmine, which at one time was simply an object database. At least one IBM official said part of the problem was that IT was sold to the wrong people—those with the checkbooks—rather than those who knew how to integrate the technology.

These apologies are intended to show vendors shouldering some of the blame for the industries woes. Theyre also a meager attempt to ask for forgiveness so that when technology buying returns, those doing the buying will return to the apologizers. But guess what: Technology spending may never come back, and if it doesnt, its going to be in part because of these apologies. When a campaigning politician apologizes, the candidate is weakened. Its a throw-in-the-towel strategy. When a defendant expresses remorse, the sentence might be more lenient, but the guilt is still there.

Corporations need strength, vision, patience and to listen to customers. Apologies basically tell people that major computer companies are guilty, which at best exudes a loss of confidence and at worst a lack of direction. These are tough times. Dwelling on past mistakes does no one any good. Get over it. Fix whats wrong, and move on.

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