Covering IBM—Both of Them

Which IBM will reign: the one that has "gotten it" or the one that is inattentive, even arrogant?

In reporting this weeks cover story, Jeff Moad and I spent several weeks interviewing IBM execs, customers and analysts. This digging unearthed two IBMs.

There is the IBM that has "gotten it" with regard to open systems, multivendor interoperability, listening to customers and delivering value. This was especially clear in the instance of Mobil Travel Guide. IBM was responding to an RFP, and its pitch had a good chance of winning, but, CIO Paul Mercurio said, IBM then made another pitch, outdoing itself with an even better value with Linux On Demand Services.

"They turn up the dial, and we get more memory, processing or storage if we need it," said Mercurio. It was an innovative offer, and it made good sense for a forthcoming service, Mobil Travel Companion, that combines database and mapping technologies. "We signed the contract in August," said Mercurio. "We were up and running in less than 30 days. This was a total rebuild of our database in a new structure." Thats the IBM that is going to return to the top of the charts and stay there.

But there is another IBM, one that is inattentive and even arrogant. Its an IBM that is a Wall Street-driven, profit- maximizing, hardware-pushing nuisance. This is the IBM that National Wildlife Federation CIO Greg Smith and University of Minnesota, Crookston, IT Director Bruce Brorson told about (see stories, "Hardware Is Still Part of the Mix" and "Global Services Plays Pivotal Role").

Which is the real IBM? I believe both exist and are coinhabiting the leviathans body and even fighting for its soul. Only one thing explains this duality: profits. If IBM is generating profits from your account, youre likely to see a lot of the first IBM. If not, youll likely get the second. So while the battle rages between the two IBMs, heres to an elephant that remembers the dark days of 1991 to 1993; a humble, earnest elephant that wants to serve—every account.