By IBM for Government

A while ago the folks in my team coined the phrase “By government for government” to symbolise the difference in our approach to developing central infrastructure solutions versus those of typical technology firms who would likely sell a pile of product accompanied by an even bigger pile of promises. Today, IBM has cottoned on to that message and proposed a “revolutionary approach” that will see a huge reorganisation of its selling, developing (R&D anyway) and partnering approach.

The boss there, Sam Palmisano, even goes so far as to say, startlingly enough (and believe me, I wish I could emote outright sarcasm on these pages), “Technology in and of itself is not enough”. Bonus points for getting there, negative 100x for being late to that phrase. The head of the Software Group, Steve Mills, adds “Companies don’t want to buy technology, they want to buy business solutions built for their industry”.

So there’s a clearer choice now: By government for government, or by IBM for government. Seems clear to me.

I’ve been intrigued by Palmisano’s previous pronouncements on the subject of e-business on demand. After all, along with Linux, the new CEO is putting a lot of chips on the table on what looks to be a very long term bet. Getting inside what “on demand” actually means is a challenge and, as other vendors have come up with their own versions, such as “the adaptive enterprise” or “utility computing”, not only has the table become more crowded but the outcome of the bets less clear. I did, though, love IBM’s ad comparing computing to the perennial essentials of fire, water, electricity etc. Just another thing you expect to be able to turn on when you want was the message. That single initiative took an awful lot of pushing from SP himself to make happen … I’m not clear that a reorg alongside it, coupled with the Linux change (internally they’re supposed to be making a move to put everyone in the company onto a linux desktop), provides a clear enough focus. Still, if you’re going to make such a change, now is the time – just as Carly Fiorina went for Compaq at a time when the industry was in a downswing, freeing her to concentrate on the economies inherent in the merger, maybe this is the time for IBM to make their change too. Others are making their bets too: EMC is buying software companies and adding to its own software stack, recognising that hardware is a commodity – and where commodities arise, Dell sweeps in I guess; Sun has its Opteron link up, Java desktop and $100 a head licence fee (hard to see how it will work, but a fascinating strategy) and Microsoft? Longhorn maybe? Not clear that a different bet has been made there yet either.

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