The Return of the IBM PC Division

They're baaaack. Desktop & Mobile columnist Rob Enderle points to a saavy new manager, and new emphasis on support, as proof that the 1000 pound gorilla has returned.

Im not a big fan of software programs spawned by hardware vendors, and to date IBM Corp. has done little to change my mind. However, I recently learned about some new developments that could make me rethink Big Blues efforts.

The concept behind IBMs ThinkVantage program has always been sound: Corporations need to control costs, protect users, deploy purchased technology promptly, and realize benefits from purchasing new laptop and desktop computers.

Each vendor has its own method of addressing this challenge. IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have been the most aggressive about creating specialized tools and services for these tasks. Dells solution includes services from partners and software from Altiris. HP also uses Altiris as well as OpenView, although it taps its own services to drive innovative technologies like PC blades.

Unlike its competitors, IBMs entire solution is homegrown, but the company hasnt always seemed prepared to back it up. Until recently, the software was poorly integrated and enjoyed almost no marketing. To add insult to injury, the tools often didnt work.

I sit on IBMs advisory council, which meets every six months. Twice a year, we have heard that IBM understands these problems and plans to address them. Until now, they never were.

So whats changed? The IBM PC Division has a new executive manager named Steve Ward. Hes IBMs most powerful "fixit" guy, and he has been in the job long enough to begin to fix some historic problems. Ward was previously Gerstners go-to guy, and has a direct line to current IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. Hes connected to every part of the company, and has been bringing different resources together to make the PC Division (PCD) a success.

After years of neglect, IBM actually looks like it has the corporate mandate, and the corporate support, to make these tools—and the PC Group—actually successful.

For example, IBM has integrated IBM Global Services into the ThinkVantage program—rolling out a low-cost consulting program designed to teach IT how to deploy and use the tools. This addresses the largest problem with any vendor-supplied tools: Most customers try to learn how to use them while they are deploying them.

What makes the tools so important? Several years back, I made a big deal about the cost of deploying new hardware, specifically the effort it took to move users to new machines. I also warned that we had to do a better job of restoring broken machines. Today IT either spends hours diagnose and fixing a problem, or simply forces a user to re-image the hard drive—not great for IT-user relations. IBMs tools address both those problems.

Next page: The best tools inside IBMs ThinkVantage program.