Today, when I gaze into my crystal ball to see what issues are likely to dominate technology markets in the next decade, I see the Internet against a blue background—a Big Blue background.
Thats ironic if you consider that when IBMs fortunes began to fade in the early 1990s, the company seemed locked in a death spiral. Big Blues early, seemingly insurmountable lead in the PC market had faded to a distant second place behind Compaq, thanks, in large part, to its decision to build its original PC platform on Intels chips and Microsofts operating system. The final nail in the coffin, it seemed, was Bill Gates betrayal in abandoning the IBM-Microsoft collaboration on the OS/2 operating system in favor of Windows.
Gauging market reaction earlier this month, when IBM announced a rare earnings warning, youd have thought we were witnessing a sequel to those dark days of the early 90s. But, if anything, IBM now seems destined to reassert its dominance of the market, which has grown wary of Microsoft, frustrated with Oracle and Sun, and hungry for the objective expertise that has come to be associated with IBM.
Much credit for the turnaround must go to IBMs former chairman and CEO, Lou Gerstner, who dismantled the companys traditionally uptight culture and swept out decades of arrogance and complacency that had left the bottom line hemorrhaging. In its place, Gerstner built a company that was just as ambitious and almost as massive as its predecessor but far more nimble and far more adroit at navigating volatile technology markets.
The humbled IBM turned out to be a far more pragmatic company. Nowhere was this clearer than in three tough decisions that dumped on the companys traditions but changed its fortunes: shifting emphasis from products to services, all but abandoning its desktop PC division and enthusiastically embracing the open-source Linux operating system while continuing to build on the Windows NT platform and its own installed AIX base.
People laughed that IBM never met an operating system it didnt love, but in fact, its platform agnosticism has left the company well-positioned for the rapidly accelerating build-out of e-commerce initiatives across a wide range of enterprises. Whether youre a government agency, a huge corporation or a mom-and-pop retail venture, IBM probably has a strategy for you that is likely based on objective analysis of available technologies rather than on its desire to move product. In the end, it comes down to trust. Microsoft and Sun have lost the markets trust. IBM is earning it every day.
Do you agree with me, or am I giving IBM too much credit? Let me know at [email protected]